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.
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:
Adopting a Child with Spina Bifida
Photograph: Tatyana McFadden; Courtesy Liberty Mutual Insurance
Attention sports fans! This Monday marks the premiere of the 21st season of The Golf Channel’s reality television competitionBig Break Florida.Golf pro Tonya McCall is the only competitor also known as “Mommy” to her kids (Molly, 3, and Mason, 20 months).Parents caught up with Tonya about getting back into the sport, filming for reality TV, and what she hopes her kids will learn from her path to pursue her dreams.
P: What ultimately made you decide to switch from being a full-time mom and return to your golfing career?
TM: Going back into golf was just something that I’ve always been very passionate about. Some people say, “When I go work out I’m in such a better mood,” and that’s how golf makes me. I can go out and hit balls for an hour and then I come home and I’m a much happier person. It’s like my therapy, so to speak. It’s just healthy for being a mom and a wife.
TM: With Mason I was able to see his first step, I was able to be there for his first word—well, with both of them. At Mason’s age there are just so many new things every week. Now that Molly’s older, there are not as many new things. She’s like a person now. I was very fortunate I was able to stay home with both of them for such a big part of their young life. I’ll miss that small stuff. It really does make a difference as a mom.
P: On the flip side, with this new chapter in your life what are you most excited about?
TM: Finding who I am again. This always sounds so bad, I don’t want to make it sound bad, but I can be a little bit more me-driven. Looking at the broad perspective of what I can do for my family by doing what I love and doing what I do well. I’m excited about putting my time into my career and my golf because I know the life and everything that it could give to my children. If I can create a better life for them, that’s always the ultimate goal. Also, to show my kids that with hard work no matter the obstacles that you overcome, you can always do what you love if you stick with it.
P: What, if anything, is your message to young athletes, especially female athletes?
TM: Don’t be afraid to take time off to have your children. And to spend those young years with them because it’s not like golf—it won’t always be there. The kids are only young once and I’m so thankful that I was able to be there with them. Don’t be afraid of the unknown.
P: What was it like being the only mom in the Big Break competition?
TM: It was really mature. I didn’t get into this drama stuff. There was one girl that was older than me, but I was the only one with children. I think after you have children, your whole perspective of friends and family changes. I also think in the back of my mind was “What do I want my children to look up to?”I wanted to act the way that I would want my daughter to be raised, I guess. Having Molly in the back of my mind at all times was kind of like “How would she view this?”I wanted her to look at her mom and think “I want to be like Mom.”
P: Being sequestered without cell phones and everything during taping, what was it like to be away from your family during that time?
TM: If it wasn’t for something I loved, it would’ve been a nightmare. I was away for almost three weeks and I wasn’t able to see them. I tried to do everything I could to remind myself of the kids. There is a fun story about my logo: When Molly made her first M, she made a big M and then kept it going into two M’s. With Molly and Mason I thought, “Oh my gosh!”So I always marked my ball with two M’s in pink. When I came back, I sprinted off the plane, ran down the escalators, and Molly and Mason were there. Those hugs made it all worth it.
TM: Absolutely. I think golf for me, with the discipline, the self-honesty, and the small things that you learn, it makes you mature very quickly. Not that they need to. I want them to be kids. Whatever they choose to do I’m okay with. We had a couple free classes for Molly for gymnastics and she loved it. Anytime I see her enjoying something, I’m going to try to capture that and put her into whatever it is. Same with Mason. I want them to enjoy life. I do like sports; I think it kept [me and my brother] out of trouble.
P: When your kids are old enough to watch and understand the show, what do you hope they learn from it?
TM: My dad always said, “Take good from what you see in us and throw the rest out.” I just hope when they do watch it, they understand that they can take away good. I hope that they can respect me more as a mom seeing what I was doing away from them, trying to pursue what I love. I hope it inspires them.
Photograph: Courtesy Golf Channel
Big Break Florida premieres Monday, February 24 on the Golf Channel 9pmEST. Check your local listings.
Tonya said that working out while she was pregnant made huge different in getting back in shape after baby. Check out this video for a safe and easy pregnancy workout.
Football season is now in full swing. Whether your little athlete plays on a team or prefers to watch from the sidelines, you’ll want to encourage a positive attitude towards sports. We spoke with Andrew Luck, quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, to get his advice for keeping kids moving and encouraging a healthy lifestyle.
Make sure it’s fun. “Even as a professional athlete, if it’s not fun, something is wrong,” Andrew says. He recommends letting your child play as many sports as she wants. “Diversity helps. Playing basketball helped me become a better football player.”
Emphasize the commitment. “My parents never forced me to play anything, but if I started a season of any sport, I had to finish it out,” he says.
Help your child prepare correctly. That means fueling up on the proper foods, getting enough sleep, and understanding what the body needs.
Practice, practice, practice! “I used to throw for hours with my dad after work,” Andrew says. “But on occasions where he didn’t have a lot of time, we’d just do five minutes. Even that helps.”
Andrew also gave us his tips for throwing the perfect spiral. Perfect the move yourself, and then teach your little one:
1. Grip the football correctly. Hold the ball so that your ring and little finger are across the laces and your thumb is underneath. Your thumb and index finger should make an “L” shape. Don’t grip the ball too tightly–you should hold the football firm, but it should still be moveable and comfortable in your palm. 2. Position your body. Face 90 degrees away from your target and turn your hips to the side you throw with. Keep your front shoulder pointed at your target. 3. Keep it by your ear as you prepare to throw. This will keep the ball at the proper height. 4. Release the ball with your fingertips. As the football leaves your hand, it should only touch your fingertips. The last part of your body to touch the football should be your index finger, giving it a nice spin. 5. Practice makes perfect. Play a game of catch with your child, and you’ll both get better through repetition.
Want to win a $15,000 grant for your school? Andrew has teamed up with Quaker Oats and Fuel Up to Play 60 for the Make Your Move video contest. Film and submit a video of students showcasing how they are active by November 27, and your school could win all sorts of great prizes! Check out the video below for more details.
The 2013 U.S. Open Tennis Tournament has finally come to an end, which means that the season is winding down and the players’ schedules lighten up. For the dads on the ATP tour, this means some added family time. Top ranked players James Blake of the United States, Lleyton Hewitt of Australia, and Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland share how they manage being a dad while playing, their most memorable moments with their kids on the tour, and their favorite things to do in New York during the grand slam. Turns out, even the tennis players who travel the world up to 42 weeks of the year value the same parts of parenting as you.
James Blake, dad to Riley, 1
What has your most memorable moment been with your daughter, Riley, on the tour?
JB: It’s every day. Every day is something new, it’s so much fun. The first time she walked was the day before I left for Atlanta and I couldn’t be happier that I was still home. I watched her walk across the basement floor and once she realized she could walk…just nonstop. I don’t think she’s stopped walking since then. It’s been a month and a half and I don’t think she’s stopped walking or running. And she’s started to mimic. So when I say “night night” she says “night night” back. Every day is so much fun.
What do you most look forward to doing with her now that you have officially retired from the game to spend more time with your family?
JB: I’m looking forward to being around and not even thinking about missing another milestone. I’m lucky to have that luxury, and I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.
Lleyton Hewitt, dad to Mia, 7, Cruz, 4 and Ava, 2
What was your funniest or most memorable moment with your kids on tour?
LH: Some of the best moments are when I’m taking them on court after I’ve had a good win—that’s obviously pretty special. I’m fortunate enough that I have kids who are young enough in age that I can still be playing on the tour and they can understand what dad’s doing on tour. Travling a lot, your priorities change, obviously. It’s not so much about my schedule as much as it is about their schedule and what’s best for them.
Stanislas Wawrinka, dad to Alexia, 3
What’s your most special moment you’ve had when your daughter travels with you?
SW: The first time she came to see my warm-up match in Basel last year was great. She was really happy. It’s more important that when she’s on the tour, she’s really happy to be at Daddy’s work. I like to play with her at night and when I have days off.
Has she been to New York? What do you like to do with her around the city?
SW: Yes, last year she was here. She went to Central Park a lot. For a kid it’s not easy in New York—it’s a big city. It was not easy for us because I leave early in the morning and come back late. When I had a day off I went to Central Park with her to ride the horse carriage and she loved it! She said, “I want to do it with Daddy and Mommy!” It was a great memory.
Image: James Blake by Herbert Kratky/ Shutterstock.com
We know that your kid is a star on the soccer pitch. Or on the football field. Or on the basketball court. But even if an athletic scholarship doesn’t seem in the cards, keep him busy this fall sports season — and save yourself up to 50 percent off retail prices — with sporty gear from Shop Parents.
Summertime and the living is easy…unless you have a house full of children on summer vacation, that is. Ply them away from the PlayStation with these outdoor sports toys, currently up to half off on our e-retail site, Shop Parents:
Childhood ADHD tied to obesity decades later
Boys who are diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in elementary school are more likely to grow up to be obese adults than those who don’t have the condition, a new study suggests. (via Reuters)
Newer whooping cough vaccine not as protective
A newer version of the whooping cough vaccine doesn’t protect kids as well as the original, which was phased out in the 1990s because of safety concerns, according to a new study. (via Reuters)
Home visiting programs are preschool in its earliest form
Through programs across the country, nurses, social workers or trained mentors offer support to new or expectant parents and impart skills to help them become better teachers for their children. (via Washington Post)
City closure of Cobble Hill preschool means kids are having ‘classes’ in parks, museums as parents fume
The Linden Tree Preschool is run by the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. The city closed it on May 9, saying it did not have permits for infants or toddlers. Since then, parents have taken their kids to the park and other field trips where teachers have been instructing the kids. (via NY Daily News)
USA Football health and safety survey shows few youth concussions
Fewer than 4 percent of youth players surveyed in a USA Football-sanctioned study suffered concussions in the 10 leagues examined. (via Fox News)
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by Lambeth Hochwald, a writer for Parents magazine and Parents.com. She recently attended the National Football League (NFL) Youth Health and Safety Luncheon in New York City to learn more about how to prevent and treat concussions.
Concussions are, without a doubt, on the top 10 list of things parents worry about. This brain injury is caused by a blow to the head or the body from hitting another player, a hard surface (such as the ground), or a piece of equipment (such as a lacrosse stick or hockey puck).
With 38 million kids participating in sports each year in the U.S. and 3 million youth football players, the risk of a concussion isn’t rare. In fact, it’s been estimated that there are 1.6 to 3 million sports- and recreation-related concussions among children and adults every year.
Thankfully, our concussion awareness is evolving. Last year, 30 NFL teams hosted health and safety events for community members and the NFL has also partnered with organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to educate youth coaches, players, and parents on how to prevent, identify, and properly treat a concussion.
“We know that a concussion changes the brain’s electrochemical ‘software’ function,” said Gerard Gioia, Ph.D., division chief of neuropsychology at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. “It produces physical, cognitive, and emotional signs and symptoms that can last hours, days, or even months.”
Here are seven things you need to know about concussions:
Know the signs. Concussions can lead to physical symptoms, including headache, fatigue, balance problems, vomiting, and drowsiness; cognitive symptoms, including memory and concentration issues; emotional symptoms, including irritability and sadness and sleep disturbances.
Know the risks.Bicycle accidents are the number one reason kids ages 19 and younger are treated for a concussion in the emergency room. In kids who are 10 and under, concussions tend to occur after a bicycle accident or a fall at the playground.
Know about helmets. Helmets don’t prevent concussions, but they do prevent severe brain injury and skull fractures. Make sure your child is wearing a helmet that meets U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission standards (the label inside should include the certification) and that fits properly. “A haircut can affect how a helmet will fit,” added speaker Scott Hallenbeck, executive director of USA Football.
Know that concussions are often an ‘invisible’ injury. Because more than 90 percent of sports-related concussions occur without losing consciousness, it’s up to coaches, teammates, parents, and onlookers to recognize what to do when a child has experienced this trauma.
Know the risky sports/positions. Head injury risks are higher in tackle football and soccer than in other sports. There are also certain positions on a team that can also raise risks. For example, your child is more likely to receive a concussion if she is a baseball catcher or a soccer and hockey goalie.
Know the CDC is on it. The CDC’s “Heads Up” awareness program and Facebook page provide ample information about concussions for health-care professionals, parents, and coaches. Concussion fact sheets are available as clipboard stickers, magnets, and posters for young athletes. These can be ordered in bulk for your child’s school.
Know that it’s imperative for your coach to be trained. The CDC offers online training for youth and high school coaches. Be sure your child’s coach is up-to-date on the latest concussion prevention and treatment information. Ask about his or her experience — your child is counting on you.
Parents should stay vigilant from the sidelines. If you suspect that a coach is continuing to keep a child on the field after an injury, speak up. Playing or practicing with concussion symptoms is dangerous and can lead to longer recovery and a delay in your child’s return to the sport. “Toughing it out” is unacceptable. As NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says, “It’s not cool to be tough when it comes to your head.”