When it comes to great moments in American women’s running, Shalane Flanagan’s 2017 win at the New York City Marathon tops the list. So does the day Desiree Linden conquered wind and rain to break the tape at the 2018 Boston Marathon. Deena Kastor winning the Chicago Marathon in a down-to-the-wire battle with Constantina Tomescu-Dita in 2005 is well worth looking up on YouTube if you haven’t seen it.
Now, imagine a single woman scored all those victories in a single year, including another win at the London Marathon for good measure. Then picture her doing the same thing, three more times. Add a handful of world records, 20 world championship medals, 17 Paralympic ones—including seven gold—and you’ll start to wrap your head around the scope of wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden’s accomplishments.
In a year with little in-person competition, you might think the highly decorated athlete would take some welcomed downtime. But that’s not McFadden. Instead, she added film credits to her résumé, by appearing in (and producing) the Netflix documentary Rising Phoenix. The stunning film weaves the history of the Paralympic Games with personal tales of several athletes, including McFadden’s journey from an orphanage in Saint Petersburg, Russia, to the bright spotlight of Paralympic podiums.
Photo: Courtesy Tatyana McFadden
To call it an uphill battle feels embarrassingly cliché and like a drastic understatement. But McFadden, 31, was born to climb. From the time she started scooting around to keep up with her friends in the orphanage—“I never thought of myself as someone who was different,” she says—through her victories on undulating courses like New York and Boston, she’s thrived on overcoming obstacles. “Resilience has always been inside me.”
Her friends and teammates agree: “She can just power through anything: headwinds, hills, uneven surfaces,” says Amanda McGrory, a seven-time Paralympic medalist and teammate. “It makes her a really difficult competitor. A lot of times when people are kind of backing off from things, taking it easy up a hill, slowing down on bumpy roads, that’s where she excels.”