Adversity Since Birth
We hear all about the sports figures that are in the limelight: Michael Phelps, Tom Brady, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, and Mia Hamm to name a few. But is it possible that there is a few that hold the same credence without getting the proper attention they deserve? Absolutely, and Tatyana McFadden may be at the top of that list.
Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tatyana grew up in an orphanage for the first six years of her life. Born with Spina Bifida, a disability caused by a hole in your back, she was paralyzed from her waist down. While the other kids ran around, Tatyana refused to fall behind so she learned how to walk using only her arms and hands. Without the funding to buy a wheelchair, she unknowingly began to develop arm strength that would aid her rise to stardom in the years to come. Her wheelchair did come with time however when she was introduced to Deborah McFadden, an American woman who was taking routine a business trip as the Commissioner of Disabilities for the U.S. Department of Health. The two instantly connected and the adoption process took place before Deborah returned home.
11 Medals And Counting
Tatyana was still volatile upon her arrival in America, and was given a timeline of a few months to two or three years maximum left to live. Hoping to build up her strength, Tatyana’s new parents introduced her to sports, an infatuation that would bring her international success and an amazing mindset that puts most to shame. She tried many sports, but absolutely loved wheelchair racing, and excelled at it in no time. She told her mother that she wanted to be an Olympian one day, that she wanted to feel what they (Olympic athletes) feel when standing on the winner’s podium. Sure enough, Tatyana would experience that feeling not once, not twice, but 11 times in the 10 years that followed. At the 2014 Paralympics, she received her first two medals in wheelchair racing at age 14, one silver and one bronze. Four years later in Beijing, she added 4 more medals which was then mimicked in the 2012 Paralympics in London when she tallied another 4, 3 of those being gold medals. Making her the fastest woman in the world in her sport. While most people would be satisfied with 10 Olympic medals, Tatyana was unenthused with only participating in one sport. In 2013 she decided to pick up cross-country skiing, and with less than one year of experience in the snow, you guessed it, she made the winter Paralympics. And while she was at it she amazingly enough out performed all but one, slightly missing the gold medal and receiving silver.
If you are not too busy picking up your jaw that has rightfully dropped, the most incredible thing to consider is that she has accomplished all of this before graduating from college. As 2014 eventually rolled around, Tatyana finished her education at the University of Illinois with a degree in Human Development and Family Studies, she plans to pursue graduate studies which is another thing that should not seem surprising at this point. She carries a precedence and demand for excellence in all facets of her life. She says that through her life she has “wanted to prove that with training and hard work and dedication you can be the best. And if you don’t train you wont be the best.” Plain and simply, hard work is her mantra. This mentality has been most recently rewarded when she received the 2015 Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability Award for her accomplishments in both track and field and cross-country skiing. And when asked about her “disability” she responds by saying “I hate that word, disability, because there is nothing disabled about us (those that are disabled), we have accomplished much more than the average person.” She is absolutely right, and maybe her words and actions will one day inspire the Laureus award to be renamed to the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Sports Ability Award. Tatyana McFadden demonstrates the mental toughness and resilience that we should all seek, and shows us that “disability” is simply a limitation that we put on ourselves.