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Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014
The Sochi Winter Paralympics took place March 7-16. Previously known only as a summer Paralympian in wheelchair racing, Team USA member Tatyana McFadden took on the snow in Russia—where she was born before being adopted into an American family at the age of 6. As part of Team Liberty Mutual, McFadden rose to the top. Born with spina bifida, the now 11-time medalist (track and sit-ski) chatted with Parents about overcoming obstacles—in life and in athletics, her adoption experience and her family, and fighting for equality in sports.
P: How does it feel to have won even more medals now in the winter Paralympics?
TM: It was just an amazing, fulfilling experience for me. I definitely exceeded my expectations. I really expected just to be in the top ten for the 12k and I got fifth and then in the sprint, I just really wanted to make the Finals and I medaled. And in the 5k I really wanted to be top 10 again and I got seventh.
P: Summer Paralympics, Winter Paralympics, New York Marathon, Chicago Marathon, the list goes on. What was it like to train for so many different events simultaneously?
TM: It was very difficult. I ran marathons all the way up until November  and at that time I was still in college. I graduated just this December , so as soon as I graduated I headed out to Colorado for snow training. It was a very continuous schedule.
P: You encountered quite a few obstacles in your childhood. When you were in the orphanage in Russia, how much of an understanding of your condition and your potential did you have?
TM: Living in the orphanage for six years, I never saw myself as any different. I walked on my hands for the first six years of my life. I didn’t have a wheelchair, but I was a child of determination and drive. If I wanted to get somewhere I would do it and I would do it by walking on my hands. You know, many others think that living in the orphanage was a huge setback in life, but being adopted into an American family brought me opportunities to rise on so many levels, as a student and an athlete.
P: Do you think that your lack of wheelchair as a child led you to gain the strength that has now served you as an athlete?
TM: I think it was just the personality that I have. I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. I always had a Russian saying “Yasama,” which means “I can do it myself and I can do it by myself.” I didn’t want anyone to help me and I think walking on my hands made me extremely strong. But it was just having that drive and determination at such a young age. As soon as I was adopted, I became involved with sports to help be gain a healthy lifestyle.
P: Tell me a little more about your family and the adoption process and coming to America.
TM: The adoption actually saved me. I was very sick and very anemic living in the orphanage. I was born with spina bifida and I was laying in the hospital with my back open for 21 days, so it was quite a miracle that I lived without getting an infection and dying. I do believe there is a purpose for me being here and being alive. I also believe in fate and I remember a woman walking in [to the orphanage] and I looked at her and I told everyone that was gonna be my mom. It was just the strangest feeling. From that moment I really connected with my mom and here we are 19 years later. She’s been so supportive in helping me be the person that I am today.
P: You have two younger adopted sisters, Hannah and Ruthi. What’s that like all having different origin stories and coming together in one family?
TM: There’s lots of culture involved. I mean, we love each other. My middle sister Hannah is also a Paralympian. She’s missing a tibia and fibula, so she’s an amputee. She was in the final of the summer Paralympics with me in the 100 meters. That was the first time ever in track that siblings competed against each other. And my younger sister Ruthi, she plays basketball. We’re all involved with sports and athletics. It’s fun just having that one thing in common. I’ve always wanted a big family.
P: When did you first discover your passion for sports?
TM: Around age 7 when my mom got me involved with a para sports club called the Bennett Blazers. She got me involved with a sports club because being so sick and very anemic, the doctors said, “She probably has a few years to live, just help her try to live a healthy lifestyle.” But my mom really thought otherwise and she said, “No, I’m gonna help her get healthy.” The way to do that was to get me involved with sports.
I started gaining weight. I started becoming a lot stronger. I was able to be more independent. I could push my own wheelchair. Then I started to do my own transfers in and out of the wheelchair. Before I knew it I could do almost everything by myself. Sports allowed me to do that and I wasn’t even focusing on how far I could take this sport. I was just focusing on Wow I can live a healthy lifestyle. If it wasn’t for my mom, I wouldn’t be a healthy person and have fallen in love with sports.
P: Your work with the Bennet Blazers and your battle to pass legislation for equality in high school sports is so important. Tell me a bit more about your quest for equal access to athletics.
TM: I was a very different high school student. Coming into freshman year, I came back from the Paralympic games in Athens winning a silver and bronze medal and the only thing I wanted to do in high school was to be part of the track team. I was the only physically disabled wheelchair athlete at my high school and I remember the principle saying, “Get involved!” I wanted to be involved with track. First, they denied me a uniform, and then at track meets they had to stop the entire meet and let me run by myself. That’s not what it should be about. We should all be included as one.
P: So the idea is to have integrated teams of those who are in wheelchairs against those who are not? Not for a separate division or town leauges?
TM: It’s for people with physical disabilities to be part of high school sports. It was never to compete against, it was just to run along the side of. That’s what should happen especially if you’re the only athlete. If there were several others than of course we would have our own heat. It’s just about showing your athletic ability. It’s the 21st century and no one should be denied that. And if they’re denied high school, imagine what problems they’re going to run into later in life that they could be denied. Now it’s a federal law.
P: What is your message to kids with differing abilities and to parents of those kids?
TM: There are definitely gonna be challenges in your life and there’s definitely gonna be several setbacks, but it’s about being able to come back from those setbacks and rise in your own way. For me, I rose because of my mom and then in high school I rose because of the lawsuit creating opportunities for others. Now being an 11-time Paralympic medalist, I know these setbacks make us stronger so we can rise as individuals.
One mom’s story about adopting a child with spina bifada:
Photograph: Tatyana McFadden; Courtesy Liberty Mutual Insurance
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Thursday, January 30th, 2014
Just before her flight to Sochi, Parents caught up with 19-year-old Olympic ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson. Inspired by her father, Bill, Sarah started Alpine skiing at age 2 and then followed in her older brother and father’s footsteps into ski jumping at age 7. Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes recently released a study showing that sports are a prime way for dads and daughters to bond. Sarah and Bill each took time to chat with us about Sarah’s dreams as a young athlete and how skiing helped to bring father and daughter closer than ever.
P: Congratulations on your huge accomplishment making this year’s Olympic team, not to mention the first team in your sport! What was the first thought that went through your mind when you find out you were going to Sochi?
SH: It’s been my goal since I was little and when I had my knee injury my dream kind of seemed to flash before my eyes. But I worked hard and luckily I rehabbed just in time. Obviously just super excited to represent Team USA and compete at the highest level. I don’t think I really realize it at the moment how big it is historically, but it’s really exciting.
P: And, Bill, tell me what you’re feeling.
BH: It’s a dream come true. Who would’ve asked for anything this tremendous and awesome? A lot of it hasn’t sunk in and I don’t think it really will until maybe I set foot in Russia and see all the fanfare. It’s just gonna be tremendous to see Sarah at the venue with an elite group of jumpers and to see how she can do.
P: How is it to have a child who is so determined to achieve her dreams?
BH: It’s pretty inspiring, right? As a parent we try to inspire our children so when things flip and you realize my child is inspiring me, that’s pretty impressive. You kind of ask yourself, where does that come from? What gives her that drive? I carry passion for life and passion for skiing and maybe I’ve passed some along to her. I’m just so impressed with her. She takes the time to be the best she can be within her sport. It just warms my heart to find that she seeks that thrill and that joy out of doing what she loves to do.
P: When Sarah was younger, when it wasn’t clear yet that she was destined for the Olympics, how did you manage to balance a healthy encouragement of her talent without stepping into pressurized territory?
BH: Most parents probably don’t think about raising a child to be an Olympian and I certainly didn’t either. It was just a matter of doing what you love to do and having fun doing it. I would do my best to encourage my kids to get out of bed on Saturday mornings so we could go up to the mountain and go skiing. Then it kind of just naturally evolved. Because you have fun you want to go back and do it again and again and again.
P: Sarah, your dad was a ski jumper. Were you drawn to jumping because of your dad?
SH: He jumped when he was in high school. My dad really helped me get my start when he taught me how to ski at the young age of 2 here, in Park City. He loves bringing me and my brother out and enjoying the snow and the outdoors with me, so when I wanted to start ski jumping, of course he was super excited that I was following in his footsteps and also in my brother’s.
P: Do you think ski jumping brings the two of you closer together?
SH: What brings dads and their daughters more together is that athletic bond. It’s really important to have that bond with my dad. He supports me in every way and we still love going out skiing together. He obviously didn’t jump after high school, but he always says how proud he is of me and how crazy I am for jumping the hills that I’ve jumped. I’ve jumped further than he ever did. We share the love of skiing and we have so many memories of going on ski vacations.
P: How is the father-daughter relationship different from the father-son relationship in your house?
SH: I guess I’m Daddy’s little girl. He thought having a girl, I would be a little princess, but I have a tough side to me obviously.
BH: As Nick was going through adolescence, as a father-son relationship he just needed some more space. But with Sarah, I think we got a little bit closer as she’s been going through that 15-19 range.
P: Do you think your dad ever worries about you as his little girl?
SH: He definitely gets nervous, as well as my mom. They’re the ones at the bottom peaking through their hands as I jump at World Cups or World Championships when they both came and watched. I think they get more nervous than I do.
P: Is that true? Were you ever fearful for either of your kids to ski jump?
BH: Not particularly. I have a sense of what it is and what it’s about and that under the right conditions it’s reasonably safe. It’s not without risk, but I’m a bit of a risk-taker myself so I can appreciate that they take some risk. In terms of damage to the body because women are different from men, I would say not a concern. But I did have the concern that, Sarah being just under 100 pounds, she doesn’t necessarily have the strength Nick does to deal with conditions that aren’t ideal. What she does have is amazing body control and finesse and smoothness and grace that usually more than makes up for any concerns I would have. She is Daddy’s little girl, but great things come in small packages. She’s a tremendous little athlete.
P: How were you feeling when she got injured?
BH: It pained me to have her going through such agony. It was almost like we were one. She’s feeling pain, I’m also feeling the same pain for her. As parents we don’t want our children to suffer any pain. So that was tough, plus I knew she had aspirations to go to Sochi and just the uncertainty of all that. Could she recover 100 percent? Could she recover in time? Would she be able to jump again? Would she experience the same level of joy that she did previously now that she’s crashed?
Learn about sports injuries and how to prevent your child from sustaining one with this video.
P: What is it about a sport, specifically, that lends itself to strong father-daughter bonds?
BH: Sports seem to really allow dads and daughters to spend time together. Participating in a sport, you have to let other things fall away and that passion comes out and it just opens up and exposes who we are as human beings. You really let the real you come out. I think that when we allow ourselves to be authentic with each other, whether it be dads and daughters or fathers and sons, that creates a special bond where we can know each other authentically and accept each other.
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2014 winter olympics, father daughter bond, fathers, kids and sports, Olympics, Sarah Hendrickson, ski jumping, skiing, sochi olympics, winter olympics | Categories:
Monday, January 13th, 2014
2013 Photography by Robert W Gilliard of Eppicmoments.com
To gear up for the bi-annual Olympic festivities, Parents checked in with Olympic gold medalist, World Ski Champion, and mother-of-four Picabo Street. Juggling her work with the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and her four sons (Eli, 10, Treyjan, 9, Dax, 4, and Roen, 2) is no easy task, but nothing gets this gal motivated like the games!
P: Do you watch every Olympics with your kids?
PS: Absolutely. In Torino [Italy, 2006] I was there, and in Vancouver [Canada, 2010] I was there with two of my children. This year unfortunately I won’t have my kids with me, but I will be there with FOX Broadcasting and the U.S. Olympic Committee and Ski Team. I am infected with the Olympic bug and will be a huge fan forever.
P: Do your kids have Olympic fever, too?
PS: They definitely get it, especially the older two who are 10 and 9. They started to ask some big questions about it: where certain countries are and what sports come out of them. We go online and they can send a well-wish to the athletes or donate money or buy mittens that will benefit the team through the U.S. Olympic Committee sponsor programs. Through Citi Every Step, my 10-year-old voted on my initiative [promoting injury prevention and awareness for Olympic skiiers and snowboarders]. You see all the Olympians that are in the Citi program and then the kids feel really close to it. They know athletes by name and sport, so when we watch the Olympics we’re into it. They’re just counting down to the Opening Ceremonies in February.
P: Is skiing their favorite winter Olympics sport?
PS: Trey likes the bobsled, the skeleton, the luge, all of those gliding sports. Trey and Eli love the skiing because they can relate. Three out of the four do ski. The youngest was only 2 last year when we were in Park City in March. I think that hockey is probably also a favorite.
P: What do you say to moms who might think that skiing is too dangerous for their kids?
PS: Get yourself out of the way and don’t put yourself in your kids’ shoes and automatically assume that their strengths and weaknesses are yours. That’s one of the most difficult things that parents have to do is to get themselves out of the way of their child. They are their own person and they are capable of potentially more than you are. If they’re gung-ho, make sure you or somebody with experience can guide them along the way so they are safe while doing it. Skiing is a great family vacation, I know it’s expensive but it’s like no other family vacation. It’s such a safe place to let your kids be free.
P: Are there safety precautions that you take with your boys as they ski?
PS: First and foremost is to wear a helmet, dressing them for success. I made sure they knew how to stop. We taught them speed control and how to make quality turns before we took them over to the chair lift. The next thing was teaching them etiquette of the resort, and that’s something we still work on. Eli, my oldest, was relentless. His persistence was very inspiring.
P: How do you ensure that your kids enjoy sports while still taking it seriously?
PS: You gauge off of them. You can tell what kind of motivation they need; whether they like tough love (like I did) or if they need a softer, more praising touch. From personal experience, competing at that level, we were all willing to do more than the next gal or guy in order to get it done and win. We didn’t have to be told. It was just something that we do. I grew up with “good better best never never rest til my good is better and my better is best.” I have to actually be careful not to step on my kids toes too much with who I am and what I’m about and what I expect of myself. I try to let them be them.
P: Do you ever worry that they might put pressure on themselves because you have accomplished so much?
PS: Of course, you worry about everything as a parent. I don’t really believe that I or anyone else has that much control, or any for that matter, over what our children like, what they’re interested in, and what they want to become. I can tell you my mom played 26 instruments all self-taught, I can barely hold a tune and cannot play a single one. All of my kids are musical, go figure. Why wasn’t I a musician? I’m just going to encourage my kids to follow their dreams and aspirations and do what they love. If it happens to be Olympic bound, here we go. If not, I’m fine with that, too. With four of them, my odds are good that we could be at the Olympics again.
P: How do you keep your boys effectively bundled in the cold weather?
PS: Layers. Layers. Layers. I dress the boys in layers and make them easily accessible so they can go to the bathroom while they’re up there and feel comfortable. Eli is alright with wool against his skin, but it itches Trey, so we go with silk or a polypropylene for him. Roen is the same as Eli. I like wool, polypropylene, cashmere and then fleece and then the outer layer is the key. It needs to have two components in it. It needs to have down and it needs to have a windbreak. With those two in the outer layer, you really don’t have to bulk them up too much inside. It keeps them from having a stiff-armed snowman feel all day. If it’s really cold you can change their temperature by what you put on their hands and head. Go gloves or mittens depending on the temperature. You can also just wear a helmet, or you can do a light little beanie super thin up underneath the helmet and cover the ears. If it’s super cold, you can put a neck gator on with a face mask and bundle all the way up. Make sure you’ve got sunscreen, sunglasses or goggles and water. Lots of H20. You have to watch the water intake. That’s key.
P: Your kids all have such unique names. How did you choose them?
PS: Treyjan I named after the Roman emperor. On his father’s side he’s the third Newt [Trey is a nickname for "the third"] and his dad and I just really thought it was a cool name. Eli is biblical, my husband chose it that way. Dax is a little French town and it was a kid in my class growing up and I wanted an ‘x’ in his name and I landed on him. I wanted his initials to be early in the alphabet, too, so I landed on Dax and my husband, John, agreed. Roen’s was tough. Dax and Eli’s names were early in the alphabet, I wanted Roen’s name to start with something close to Trey so I bounced around the S’s and the R’s. We finally landed on Roen. John said without the w. And I said R-O-E-N and he said love it.
Check out our Baby Names app to help you find names just as fitting as the ones Picabo and John chose for their kids.
P: Eli, your oldest, is your stepson and your husband, John, is Trey’s stepfather. What is your advice for parents merging two families?
PS: Definitely unconditional love. We also have to get over ourselves and really see our kids for who they are. I had to really get to know Eli and then earn his trust. Also, the best thing for someone who you’re new to and who is new to you is to be predictable and consistent. The more consistent you are the more stable your relationship is, the stronger it gets. Honestly, Eli and I have worked really hard to have a really strong bond and we can talk about everything and anything. It’s rock solid. As far as Trey and Eli went, merging them, that was tough. I wanted to protect Trey from the way Eli is because Eli is dominant, a real alpha, and he’s boisterous. Trey is sensitive; he’s harmonious. Eli would kind of beat up on Trey and I would get protective. When I talked to some of my expert resources, they told me ,“Eli is gonna toughen Trey up and Trey is gonna soften Eli and they’re gonna land somewhere in the middle and it’s gonna be a beautiful thing so unless they’re really going at it let them work it out.” It got easier when Dax showed up because he was a true brother to both of them.
P: Do you have plans for another?
PS: No ma’am. We gave up on having a girl with Roen. It is a lot to handle, but it’s an even sports team because there are six of us.
P: What is your best advice for other moms who travel a lot and might spend a lot of time away from their kids, as you do with your speaking engagements and your activism work?
PS: Take care of yourself and try not to beat yourself up too much for being gone and being someone who contributes to the family, and who pursues their dreams at the same time. Easier said than done. I leave notes when I go. I make sure to call and participate at the really important times during the day. I try to Facetime and Skype with them, so I can really see them and get a feel for them as much as possible. One of my goals is to talk to my kids and my husband first thing in the morning every day. The bottom line is to be honest with them about where I’m going, what I’m doing and why so that they understand. What’s tough is when I say “bye-bye” and then Dax says “But Dad, you’re staying with us right?” And I just think oooooooh. I’m picky about what I leave home for these days and my kids know I’m leaving for important things. They know all about the work that I do with the US Olympic Committee and with the sponsors and specifically now with Citi to make a positive difference in the next generation of Olympians’ lives. That’s what I am proud to go be a part of these days.
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