Roll Model: A Woman On Wheels Aces Marathons

I recently exchanged tweets with disability advocate Nic Steenhout, who mentioned that he couldn’t stand the term “wheelchair bound.” As he once wrote on his blog, “The expression evokes images of limitations.”

I thought of him when I found out on Sunday that American wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden, 24, won the women’s wheelchair race of the New York City Marathon. This wasn’t just any win, though—in doing so, she became the first woman to ace the grand slam of four wheelchair marathons (New York, Boston, London and Chicago) in one year. She finished the New York City marathon in one hour, 59 minutes and 13 seconds. Wheelchair bound? Hardly.

As Tatyana recounts on her website, she was born in 1988 in Russia, with an underdeveloped spinal cord that resulted in below-the-waist paralysis. Sent to an orphanage, an unwanted child with disabilities, she grew up in one so destitute they couldn’t afford crayons for kids. She learned to use her arms as legs, walking on them. Her life changed at age six when Debbie McFadden, then the commissioner of disabilities for the U.S. Health Department, stopped by the orphanage and was taken by Tatyana. She adopted her, brought her to the U.S. and enrolled her in youth sport groups. In the ensuing years, Tanya has scored numerous medals at events; she made history at the International Paralympic Committee championships in July by becoming the first woman to win six gold medals in one event.

When Tatyana’s not zooming by the competition, she’s pursuing a degree in Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Illinois, and working as an advocate for people with disabilities. Her racing team nickname: Beast.

“My past has made me a strong, strong woman,” she’s said. “I have the drive and the will to become who I want to become.”

Words for our kids to live by.

Image: Flickr/evilthomthai

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