As if winning 10 medals in the Summer Paralympics and becoming the first woman to sweep the world's four major marathons in the same year weren't enough, Tatyana McFadden took on a whole new challenge in a sport in which she had never competed -- sit skiing -- at the Sochi, Russia, Winter Paralympics last week. One silver medal later, the 24-year-old isn't letting up anytime soon, preparing for next month's London Marathon, followed a week later by a return to the Boston Marathon.
McFadden, whose success in Sochi was preceded by three Summer Paralympic track & field gold, four silver and one bronze medals, was born in St. Petersburg, Russia with spina bifida, a disabling birth defect in which the spinal column does not completely close. Young Tatyana was adopted by an American family after spending the first six years of her life in a Russian orphanage, learning to walk on her hands.
The Sochi Paralympics were particularly special for McFadden, as she was reunited with her Russian family and was able to share the Games with her American family as well.
McFadden has had the opportunity to share her inspiring story through Team Liberty Mutual, which celebrates human persistence, highlights what is possible with the support of others, and showcases the determination in all who face a setback to come back and “Rise.”
There could hardly be a better ambassador for the program than McFadden. She took a few minutes to speak with Sports Media Report about her Sochi experience.
Sports Media Report: First, congratulations, again, on the medal in Sochi. From a competitive standpoint, how is this different from your success in Athens?
Tatyana McFadden: The Paralympics in Sochi were absolutely amazing. The venue was perfect, the food was great, the volunteers were friendly. I couldn't ask for better Game. Even the weather was beautiful; one day I was skiing in a tank top. Like London, they did an excellent job. It was a great experience for my first Paralympic Winter Games.
SMR: Do you have a preference now?
TM: I think I'm going to be a dual athlete now. They are both quite different. The Summer Games have a different edge to it, I think. And in skiing, the snow and conditions change every day. The track mostly remains the same. And the technique is very different in each. In skiing you use a lot of the core, while in wheelchair you use the shoulders and arms much more.
SMR: There is also obviously an emotional component to going to Russia - how did you manage to separate that from the competition, or did it enhance it for you?
TM: Having my family there had to be the most fulfilling moment. I think that was the most important part for me -- just being able to share my whole story and having both my birth family and my adopted family there, and winning silver, it was unbelievable.
SMR: We talk about overcoming setbacks in all walks of sports, but particularly in the Paralympic Games. What has been your driving force in wanting to compete and win?
TM: Going into they Paralympic Games in Sochi, it was my very first Winter games, so I already had a setback of sorts because I had only been skiing for a year. Most of the other competitors have been skiing for years. So I spent the year training on and off the snow, to gain strength and technique. I think it's my personality and drive that made me want to do it. Having my family and teammates and sponsors behind me helped me for sure.
SMR: As you mentioned, you can't go it alone. What kind of support have you received from fans as well as sponsors?
TM: No, you can't go in this lone, especially because the Paralympic Games can be very difficult; equipment is expensive -- my bucket [seat] alone is $3,000, the skis, the poles. We need that extra support to help meet if not exceed the expectations we have on ourselves and to get where we are today.
SMR: Besides financial support, how has being a part of Team Liberty Mutual affected you?
TM: Every person has a setback, but it depends on how you come back from it. For me, not only being an elite athlete, but adopted, plus a disability, I think I can relate to a lot of people. Team Liberty Mutual has helped me tell this story.
SMR: What is ahead for you?
TM: I graduated from college [University of Illinois] in December, so now I'm focusing on being a full-time athlete. I'm off to London in three weeks to compete at the London Marathon, and six days later the Boston Marathon.