Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Conquering The NYC Marathon
Considered one of the most decorated Paralympic athletes of all time, 29-year-old Tatyana McFadden will soon attempt a record-breaking feat at the TCS New York City Marathon. If the 17-time Paralympian can reign champion, she will obtain the most career wins—by a male or female—in the wheelchair division of the race.
McFadden was born with spina bifida, rendering her paralyzed from the waist down. She spent the first years of her life in a Russian orphanage. Without access to a wheelchair, McFadden “walked” using her hands. Adopted by Deborah McFadden when she was six years old, McFadden relied on sports to adjust to her life in the United States. After trying every sport imaginable, from wheelchair basketball and sled hockey to swimming and gymnastics, she discovered her passion and aptitude for track and field.
Although she still prefers shorter distance events, McFadden also excels at the marathon. She has won numerous Abbott World Marathon Majors, including Boston, London, Chicago and New York. In 2013, she won all four in the same year, making her the first person to do so.
After winning the TCS New York City Marathon for five consecutive years, McFadden finished second to Manuela Schär in 2017. On November 4, both ladies will return to the five boroughs, as part of a field featuring eight Paralympians and five Abbott World Marathon Majors race champions.
We spoke to McFadden, who is racing as a NYRR Team for Kids ambassador, about her final race preparations and why the TCS New York City Marathon is so special to her.
The TCS New York City Marathon Gets It
“It’s about equality for our sport—showing people that there is no difference between myself and any other runner out there. New York gets it, and it’s been amazing to watch them grow. They provide the largest field, and every time they post something about all of the runners coming back, we are all posted together, we are all posted at the same time.”
For The Love Of The Hills
“I do really, really love the uphills…because it’s so challenging. I am the weird one that really loves that challenge. New York City is a very interesting course. Because of the constant ups and downs, it makes it for a really interesting, fun race!”
Getting Better At The Downhill
“Usually a lot of people beat me down the hills; that’s where I’ve really had to change my focus. I’m getting better at going down the hills. I don’t know if I’m being a baby or not, but it gets a little scary. The roads can be so bumpy that if you hit anything, you could really, really be in serious trouble, especially because we’re going 30 to 40 miles per hour. You have to be very careful of concussions or serious injuries that can take you out of the sport for life. I think that’s why I get a little nervous.”
Making Sure The Sport Continues
“Boston increased prize money for the wheelchair division, and that’s huge. We have to make sure that we continue to make these small milestones…Yes, we are racing in a racing chair, but we are still doing the same amount of miles as any other runner. We still put in about 100 miles a week, and that’s a lot of stress on your shoulders, and your shoulders are not that big.
My fear is having the sport die out or athletes saying, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I want to make sure that the sport continues…I know it takes time, but I always want to make sure that each year marathons are doing a little more.”
“A Canadian athlete (Chantal [Petitclerc]) really set the Paralympic bar high, and she was such a big advocate in trying to equalize the sport and trying to really push Paralympics. I wanted to be just like her. She was such a great person to race against, with such class and grace and strength. She left the sport at such a high bar. I promised myself at 15 that I hoped to do the same for all those athletes in the U.S.”
“I’ve had a lot of challenges come my way. I had a severe blood clot a year ago, I got tested positive for a gluten allergy…but facing these challenges, that’s really what it’s all about. Life happens, but there’s nothing more that I love than continuing my sport and being an activist for my sport. I really try to push wheelchair racing and to really talk about what disability is. I feel like there’s a perception, but I think that through sports we can close that perception.”
The Road Ahead
“I will hopefully do seven events in Tokyo [at the 2020 Summer Olympics]. A big goal and dream of mine is to do that. I love Tokyo, and I love Japan. I think that they are going to help close the gap… I mean they’re calling it the OP, every time they talk it’s Olympics-Paralympics, that’s what it should be… It’s really nice to see. We want those kids who are 7 and 5 years old to be watching and participating because they are going to be 15, 17 and 18 by the time [the 2028 Summer Olympics in] L.A. rolls around, and they’re going to be starting to be in their prime.”