|A UMNS photo by Melissa Lauber
Tatyana McFadden won a silver and a bronze medal in the wheelchair races at the 2004 Paralympic Games.
Oct. 20, 2004
By Melissa Lauber*
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
rather than defeating opponents, Tatyana focuses on doing her best.
“Each time, you try to beat your personal best. That’s the goal,” she
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
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.
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.
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.
those who would pursue their dreams, the young Paralympian offers
simple advice: “Just do it. If you want to do something well, practice
*Lauber is associate editor of the UMConnection in the Baltimore-Washington Conference.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.