Four years ago in Rio, Tatyana McFadden earned Paralympic medals in all six individual races from the 100m through the marathon. She wants another crack at that daunting schedule in Tokyo next year, bidding to significantly add to her 17 career medals.
“My career started as a sprinter,” McFadden, who debuted at the Paralympics in 2004 at age 15, recently told NBC Sports research. “I’m finding it’s a little harder as you get older.”
The 100m, McFadden’s primary event 16 years ago in Athens, is now her toughest. She prefers the 400m and 800m, though McFadden is best known for her marathon prowess.
She swept the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon wheelchair divisions in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. In Rio, she was shockingly edged out for marathon gold in a photo finish after 98 minutes on the roads.
Also in Rio, McFadden spoke with film producer Greg Nugent. Those conversations helped lead to this week’s Netflix release of “Rising Phoenix,” which intertwines the history of the Paralympics with the stories of nine current athletes.
Sir Ludwig Guttmann, a Jewish doctor who fled Nazi Germany for Great Britain, is considered the founder of the Paralympic movement. He established the Stoke Mandeville Games — at the British hospital of the same name — in 1948 to give rehabbing World War II veterans athletic competition.
“It’s a story that has never been told before,” McFadden said. “People have an idea about what the Paralympics is, but they don’t really know the history behind it.”
McFadden also told her story in the film. She was born in Russia, paralyzed from the waist down due to spina bifida, and adopted from a St. Petersburg orphanage at age 6 by Deborah McFadden, then Commissioner of Disabilities for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and her partner.
“We want to normalize disability through sport and make it bigger, make it better,” said Tatyana McFadden, one of three producers for “Rising Phoenix.” Sixteen percent of the film’s staff had a disability.
While McFadden was one of the world’s dominant athletes in the Rio Paralympic cycle, the last four years brought challenges. In 2017, she had multiple hospital visits and surgeries for blood clots in her legs. Last year, she finished second to Swiss Manuela Schar in all five of her major marathons starts. She didn’t compete at the world championships on the track that took place one week after her last 26.2-miler.
In addition to work on the film, McFadden spent time during the pandemic working on a nutrition book and adding a once-a-week spa day.
She’s gearing up for her next major competition, signed up for the virtual New York City Marathon. The in-person Nov. 1 event was canceled due to the coronavirus, but athletes can log their own marathons (or shorter distances) between Oct. 17-Nov. 1 through New York Road Runners.
McFadden hopes to compete through the 2028 Los Angeles Paralympics and may go for a second Winter Games appearance.
“I’ve always been resilient,” McFadden told Mike Tirico in March after the one-year postponement. “This is just another resilient moment.”
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