Tatyana McFadden was all smiles next to Britain’s Prince Harry Sunday as he posed with her during the victory presentation at the London Marathon. McFadden had just won the women’s wheelchair class just six days after she won in the same division in the Boston Marathon.
The win in Boston came just hours before two bombs exploded by the very finish line McFadden crossed. But after what transpired in Boston, the 24-year old paralympian didn’t let fear overcome her bid for more marathon crowns.
"We can’t live our lives in fear," McFadden said. "There are always going to be a few bad people in the world, but the majority are good.
"What we saw in Boston after the marathon — with the community coming together, the incredible medical staff who responded so quickly, and people who were out on the course running to the hospital to give blood —that’s the good in people."
On Monday, Tatyana posted four photo collages on her Facebook, one for each victim of the bombings, with a personalized message on each.
McFadden admitted that she didn’t hear the explosions. She had been in the shower and only found out about it when she got out and saw her family and friends sitting in stunned silence as the replays of the explosions flashed on the television.
McFadden decided to dedicate her London race to the people of Boston.
“Of course, I’m going to have Boston in the back of my mind,” she said. “But, as I told my teammates, my parents and my family, this Sunday we’ll be racing for the people of Boston. I’ll carry them in my heart as I go through the course.”
Considering that there was relatively little rest in the six days between the Boston Marathon and London Marathon, repeating as champion was a remarkable feat. Even more remarkable was her time: 1:46.02, a course record.
Nothing seems nearly as remarkable as her biography. McFadden was born in St. Petersburg with spina bifida, a condition which left her paralyzed from the waist down. If doctors operate quickly after birth, the condition tends to be non-life threatening, but doctors waited 21 days to operate on McFadden, a delay that should have cost McFadden her life. After surgery, McFadden, who was abandoned by her birth parents, lived in an orphanage until she was six. She had to walk on her hands because there wasn’t enough money to supply her with a wheelchair.
McFadden's life changed when her adoptive mother Deborah, a commissioner to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, saw her in the orphanage during an aid trip to Russia and decided to adopt her. A weak McFadden continued to fight for her life when she arrived in the United States grossly underweight and suffering from severe anemia. Doctors thought she would live only a few more months.
But she beat the odds again, and Deborah enrolled her daughter in all kinds of athletic activities to build up Tatyana's strength. She thrived in athletics, and as a 15-year-old, she became the youngest member of the USA track and field team at the Athens Paralympic Games. She shocked the world when she won two medals: one silver (in the 100m) and one bronze (in the 200m).
In April of 2011, the McFaddens returned to the orphanage where Tatyana spent the first six years of her life. The reunion with the staff at the orphanage was emotional for everyone.
"The orphanage had never had a child come back to visit, let alone one they thought would never live," Deborah told Washington Running Report’s David Powell in 2011. "The staff came out to meet her and there she was with muscles to die for.”
"I had no intention of adopting, let alone a 6-year-old paralyzed child, but Tatyana and I had a connection that was nothing short of magical and miraculous," Deborah recalls. "I went back to the hotel that night and couldn't get her off my mind."
Now the world will be thinking of Tatyana as well. In addition to winning the Boston and London marathons, the 23-year-old took home three gold medals at the 2012 London Paralympic Games. When not racing on the international stage, Tatyana works to achieve equality in sports for all athletes, disabled or not.
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