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Teen overcomes obstacles to win in Paralympics – and life

 


Teen overcomes obstacles to win in Paralympics – and life

Oct. 20, 2004      

By Melissa Lauber*

WASHINGTON (UMNS) — When Tatyana McFadden, of Linden Linthicum United Methodist Church in Clarksville, Md., was 3 years old, she learned to walk — upside down, on her hands.

Today, 15-year-old McFadden is one of the fastest racers in the world. In September, instead of starting her freshman year of high school, she raced in four events at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece. She won a silver medal in the 100-meter and a bronze medal in the 200-meter wheelchair races. The games followed the summer Olympics in Athens.

The excitement of her victories rolls on. When she returned, McFadden was a guest of the Smithsonian Institute’s new exhibit, “Breaking Records, Breaking Barriers,” met President George W. Bush and is teaching disabled soldiers returning from Iraq how to race.

Her journey to become a Paralympian has been a remarkable one, said her mother, Debbie McFadden.

When Tatyana was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, her caretakers at the orphanage where she lived prayed that she would die. Her spinal column was exposed, her mother recalled.

“They couldn’t understand why God kept her alive. It puzzled them, and they wondered what kind of life this child could possibly have,” she said. After 21 days, an operation was performed.

Tatyana grew up in stark and often ugly conditions in the orphanage.

“Did I have anyone I loved? I knew who to turn to if I needed anything. I guess that was it,” she said.

When Tatyana was 6, McFadden encountered her during a fact-finding mission while working as the presidentially appointed U.S. commissioner on disabilities. Touring Russia, McFadden walked into a room at the orphanage. Tatyana immediately claimed her as her mother. “That’s my mom,” she said.

“Tatyana was born to be my daughter,” McFadden said.

She admits she is not certain of the exact reason God saved Tatyana. “Maybe it was to be a world-class athlete. But I know God has plans for her.”

In addition to a family, a wheelchair and the opportunity to pursue a dream, McFadden also gave her faith to her daughter. Tatyana knows God is with her, and her spirituality is reflected in her style of racing.

“I love competition,” she said. “I love going fast.”

She is energized by the crowds, like the 24,000 people who cheered her at the qualifying race in Sacramento, Calif.

But rather than defeating opponents, Tatyana focuses on doing her best. “Each time, you try to beat your personal best. That’s the goal,” she said.

To accomplish this, she trains for an hour a day, and often cross trains, playing basketball, ice hockey and swimming. Nothing seems to daunt her. She even goes up escalators at the mall in her wheelchair, her mother reports.

McFadden is glad that her daughter is willing to strive. “Life is full of challenges,” she said. “You never give up. In our darkest hours, we don’t always see the light.”

As a parent, her job has been pointing Tatyana toward the light.

Tatyana thanks her church and its pastor, the Rev. David Carter Rimbach, and his wife the Rev. Joan Carter Rimbach, for making the building accessible – even carrying her places where her wheelchair could not go.

The McFaddens are concerned that some churches still are not accessible for people with disabilities.

When Tatyana was adopted, she came to a land that had religious freedom, Debbie McFadden said. “Yet that same religious freedom is denied to some people by some churches.” Accessibility is essential, she said. “But the biggest barrier is attitudinal.”

Having the right attitude is essential to racing and to life, Tatyana said.

For those who would pursue their dreams, the young Paralympian offers simple advice: “Just do it. If you want to do something well, practice makes perfect.”

*Lauber is associate editor of the UMConnection in the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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