Sister act: Tatyana and Hannah McFadden
During the 2012 U.S. Paralympic Trials – Track & Field two months ago in downtown Indianapolis, the public announcer for the meet shuffled his notes and re-checked the race cards.
He knew he had already announced one McFadden, but now another? In the same race?
At the young age of 23, Tatyana McFadden is competing in her third Paralympic Games, with her first final (the women’s 400 meter T54 race) scheduled for tonight. Her little sister, Hannah, 16, will make her major international debut at the 2012 Games, which started Aug. 29 in London.
For the very first time, both sisters raced against one another in the 100-meter sprint at the U.S. Trials. It won’t be their last race together.
The McFadden sisters already made history by becoming the first pair of siblings to make the U.S. Paralympic roster, and each will try to etch their names into the history book again as they take aim at gold in London.
“Of course, I’m happy she is here and it will be a fun experience with her,” Tatyana said last week while training outside of London. “When you compete at this level, it’s just great to have another American on your side.
“And for me, it’s even better because it’s my sister.”
Tatyana, however, will have plenty to think about with her own competition. Nicknamed “The Beast” for her tremendous athletic range, Tatyana is the only U.S. Paralympic athlete to compete in the sprint, middle and marathon distances, and will race in five individual events in London.
She has held the No. 1 ranking in the world at least once this season in the 100m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m for her class, T54, and holds the U.S. records in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m. Tatyana won the New York City Marathon in 2010 and she also won the Chicago Marathon, twice.
“She has the cutest dimples and always smiles when people call her ‘The Beast’ because it really doesn’t reflect her personality,” said Debbie McFadden, the mother of Tatyana and Hannah and also her daughters’ manager. “She is so strong on the hills, though, and is a sprinter at heart.”
Just one thing has eluded Tatyana career so far: a Paralympic Games gold medal. In her two previous Paralympic Games, she has earned a combined four silver medals and two bronze.
“If I do win a gold medal this time, I’m not sure if I will scream or cry,” she said. “It’s been such a long journey for me and I have really put so much into winning a gold medal. There is a very strong group out here so I can’t make any predictions.”
At the Games in London, she is racing as the top American seed in the 100, 400 and 800 events and she also qualified for both the 1,500 and marathon. The 400 preliminaries and finals are set for the first day of the Games, and she will be in action for at least one event every day after that. The marathon is the final day.
“I really put the same amount of focus into every single event,” said Tatyana, who will be a senior at the University of Illinois this fall. “I just want to go out there and win each of them. I plan on going out there and racing each race like it’s the last one of my life.”
This from a woman who was born with spina bifida and spent her toddler years in an orphanage. The orphanage had no funds for basic needs, let alone a wheelchair, so Tatyana was left to her own devices and used her hands as feet and her feet as hands to move around.
When Debbie, then a commissioner of disabilities for the U.S. Health Department, traveled to the orphanage as part of a business trip, she became smitten by the young child. Debbie wound up adopting her, and Tatyana came to the United States when she was 6 and was raised in Clarksville, Md., outside of Baltimore. Debbie was told that Tatyana did not have much of a chance to live long, but Tatyana definitely has beaten the odds.
“Now she’s studying to be a child life specialist in college,” Debbie said. “Both girls have come a long way, and this is an exciting time for them.”
Hannah, the youngest athlete on the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Team at 16, was born in Albania and is an above-the-knee amputee who also has a congenital bone problem in her hip.
Both sisters race in wheelchairs and, despite the age difference, a sister rivalry does exist on the track.
“She’s my sister and we always wish each other luck,” said Hannah, who will race in the 100-meter sprint in London. “But when the race starts, we don’t hold back. We’ll see what happens.”
Their mom is not about to choose sides.
“People always ask who I’m going to cheer for and I tell them I’m just going to yell ‘McFadden’ instead of their individual names,” Debbie said.
While Tatyana is the family veteran and not too wide-eyed when it comes to performing on the world stage at the Paralympic Games, little sister Hannah has been enjoying soaking up the limelight since she landed on British soil. Hannah had been to the Paralympic Games in Athens and Beijing to cheer on Tatyana, but this is her first trip as a competitor.
“It’s my first visit to the UK and they made me feel welcome right away,” said Hannah, who took first place in several junior events around the United States the last few years. “I’ve already been caught up in the spirit. Right when we got off the plane, they had signs everywhere and it was great. I’ve already signed a few autographs, too.”
When comparing Athens and Beijing with London, Tatyana gave a strong endorsement to the British and their unwavering hospitality so far. The sisters are staying with a local host family until the Games start.
“London is so exciting right now and the people are coming out in force to see us,” said Tatyana, who is making her return to the city after competing in the London Marathon two years ago. “I heard they have already sold 2.1 million tickets to these Games and that really says something. I feel like the city and the country has united the Olympics and Paralympics together, and that is huge.”