Tatyana McFadden surged to the lead of the New York City Marathon, and mile after mile, waited for a rival to challenge her.
As has been the case all year, however, no one could catch the Clarksville resident. McFadden won the women’s wheelchair race in dominant fashion Sunday, completing her unprecedented quest to win four major marathons in a calendar year.
“I've had an incredible year, especially with the track season and with the marathon season,” McFadden said after winning the race by nearly four minutes over Japan’s Wakako Tsuchida.
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McFadden, 24, began her remarkable campaign by winning the Boston Marathon in April, crossing the line hours before bombs cast a pall over the famous event. Just a week later, she won the London Marathon. In October, she won her third straight Chicago Marathon.
With that difficult victory, she became the first woman to win three major wheelchair marathons in the same year. Australian Kurt Fearnley won three major men’s marathons in 2009.
But McFadden wanted her grand slam, a goal she set with her coach, Adam Bleakney, heading into the year.
“It was a challenge,” Bleakney said in explaining her motivation. “No one had done it, so she set out to do it.”
She had won the New York race in 2010 but entered Sunday’s race with some trepidation.
“I was nervous because in Chicago, I was very fatigued,” she said. “I had an injury, a rib injury, which I kept pretty quiet, but I saw the chiropractor, and it was fine. It was healed. I was nervous that the pains were going to come back for this race. The training the past couple of weeks were really good, so I felt confident. And whatever happened, I told myself on Sunday, I did everything that I could do.”
McFadden’s 2013 glory was not limited to the marathon circuit. She sandwiched her victories around a dominant performance at the Paralympic World Championships in France, where she won six races, ranging from 100 to 5,000 meters.
“I’d say it was a pretty solid year,” Bleakney deadpanned.
He has worked with numerous elite Paralympians, including one of McFadden’s top competitors, Amanda McGrory. McFadden always generated tremendous power as a sprinter, he said, but she has gradually improved her ability to maintain that speed over long distances.
She still jokes about her relative sluggishness going downhill, and Bleakney said she’s also no whiz on technically complex turns.
“The idea she’s invincible is untrue,” he said, even if McFadden’s record is beginning to suggest otherwise.
What’s next? She’s training for the Winter Paralympics in her native Russia, where she’ll try to add a gold medal in cross-country sit-skiing to her trophy collection. She only took up skiing last winter but won a national championship after a month of training.
McFadden’s story was plenty interesting before she started laying waste to her Paralympic competition.
She was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, with spina bifida that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Her mother, Deborah, a commissioner of disabilities for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, met Tatyana at an orphanage while on an aid mission to Russia. She adopted the 6-year-old and brought her to Maryland.
In 2005, McFadden made headlines with her legal battle to compete beside able-bodied athletes at Atholton High School in Howard County. The case went to federal court, where McFadden won, leading Maryland to pass the Fitness and Athletic Equity for Students with Disabilities Act in 2008.
She’s currently finishing up her child development degree at the University of Illinois, where she trains with Bleakney.