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Bloomsday 2018: No rest for Tatyana McFadden, world’s top female wheelchair athlete

Tatyana McFadden of the United States celebrates after winning the women’s wheelchair division of the 122nd Boston Marathon last month in Boston. (Charles Krupa / Associated Press)
Tatyana McFadden of the United States celebrates after winning the women’s wheelchair division of the 122nd Boston Marathon last month in Boston. (Charles Krupa / Associated Press)

The world’s most decorated female wheelchair athlete certainly could use a break.

Instead, Tatyana McFadden will spend Sunday morning grinding up Doomsday Hill, chasing her second Lilac Bloomsday title.

After a remarkable April that saw her compete in two marathons in less than a week, you’d think that McFadden might skip Bloomsday.

No chance.

“Bloomsday is fun, and I really get pumped up for it,” McFadden said last week as she prepared to fly to Spokane from her home in Illinois.

“It’s a hard seven miles and that long climb at the end, but I’m looking forward to it,” McFadden said.

That includes the weather, which should be race-perfect with clear skies and temperatures in the low 50s.

On April 16, the then-28-year-old McFadden beat the elements and a tough field to claim her fifth Boston Marathon title in the past six years.

“I didn’t think I was going to make it,” McFadden told CNN, referring to the difficult ascent 20 miles into the Boston course.

Overcoming frostbitten feet and brutal headwinds, McFadden also had to cope with slippery turns on the rain-soaked pavement.

“My clothes were wet, so my arms were heavy, so it just made for a very slow marathon,” she said.

Next came a quick trip to the London Marathon on April 22, where the four-time champ found better weather but tougher competition; she finished second behind Madison DeRozario of Australia.

There were no excuses, just a resolve to carry on, as McFadden has all year and her entire life since her birth in the former Soviet Union.

Born with spina bifida, she was left by her birth mother in a Leningrad orphanage that couldn’t afford to provide her with a wheelchair.

Young Tatyana walked on her hands for the first six years of her life. Her life motto, “Ya sama,” is Russian for “I can do it myself.”

However, no one can do it all.

Life-changing help came a few years later. Deborah McFadden, a former U.S. Disability Commissioner under President George H.W. Bush, and her partner, Bridget O’Shaughnessy, adopted Tatyana and brought her to the U.S.

“They found the local sports community, they helped me get into my first Paralympic games. Everything I’ve wanted to do in life, they’ve always said yes,” McFadden said said.

So did McFadden, who tried numerous sports before falling in love with wheelchair racing.

It loved her back. A Paralympian at 15 in Athens in 2004, she won two Olympic medals. Two years later she was a world champion and by 2008 at the Beijing Games, McFadden took home three silvers and a bronze.

McFadden has been golden ever since. At the London Olympics in 2012, she took the 400, 800 and 1,500 and finished second in the 100. McFadden was even better in the Rio Games in 2016, with four golds and two silvers.

The year ended with McFadden holding world records in five distances, from 100 meters to 5,000.

The next month, McFadden was named to the Forbes “Best 30 Under 30” list in recognition of her advocacy for equal access for people with disabilities.

However, early in 2017, McFadden suffered life-threatening blood clots in her legs. Sidelined for most of the year, she came back last fall to win marathons in New York and Chicago.


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