Shortly before the bombings at the Boston Marathon, Tatyana McFadden won the women's wheelchair division for the first time.
Tatyana McFadden had a couple of hours to savor her victory at the Boston Marathon on Monday.
It was a grueling race, and she was far behind the field in the wheelchair event before she made her charge. But McFadden, a strong climber, conquered Boston’s infamous Heartbreak Hill and said the energy of the crowd helped get her to the finish line first.
“When I crossed the finish line, I was so happy,” McFadden said. “It’s been a dream of mine to win the Boston Marathon.”
Not long afterward, however, everything changed. Two bombs exploded near the same spot where McFadden had just experienced such joy. Three people were killed and nearly 200 were injured.
McFadden, who had just completed drug testing and a lengthy round of media interviews, was heading back to her hotel and was about a block away from where the explosions took place but was unharmed. At that instant, however, she knew the day was no longer about her victory.
But she also knew she wasn’t going to let the people behind the bombing prevent her from living her life or racing in other marathons. In fact, she flew from Boston that night to her home in Maryland, and the next day she and four of her University of Illinois teammates boarded a plane to England where they will be competing in the London Marathon on Sunday — which happens to be McFadden’s 24th birthday.
It never crossed McFadden’s mind not to compete in London.
“We can’t let bad people control the freedom of our movement,” said McFadden, a three-time Paralympian who won four medals (three gold) in other track events in London. “I trust London will have all the security measures in place and I’m not afraid to run.”
Meanwhile, McFadden’s sister, Hannah, also a Paralympian, will be racing in California.
Tatyana McFadden’s goal from the start of this year was to enter — and win — marathons in Boston, London, Chicago and New York. Her victory in Boston marked her first there and also was her Boston debut.
She is competing in London for the first time since racing there in the Paralympic Games last summer, and she is back with unfinished business. Despite her success on the track in London, McFadden struggled with flat tires and placed ninth in the marathon.
McFadden returns to London with two goals in mind. She wants redemption in the marathon. She also wants to show that athletes are not going to stop competing in the wake of the bombings that took place in Boston.
Just by continuing on and racing in London this weekend, the athletes are showing their connection to those in Boston. According to news reports from London, the entrants will be wearing black ribbons to show their solidarity with the victims in Boston. Prince Harry is also expected to attend the race.
“I’m definitely running in honor of the people in Boston and I will be wearing a black ribbon as we mourn such loss,” McFadden said. “But I’d like to wear a white ribbon, too, to show that people know that in tragedy there’s always hope for the future.”
McFadden is not alone in that resolve. She was one of 14 wheelchair racers representing the University of Illinois to compete in Boston, and five of those racers (including McFadden) also had planned to compete in London. All five kept their travel itineraries intact. Joining McFadden in London are Amanda McGrory, who placed third in Boston, Susannah Scaroni, Joshua George and Aaron Pike.
And McFadden said they plan on returning to Boston next year for the marathon.
Their coach at Illinois, Adam Bleakney, also raced in Boston on Monday. He is back on campus, but his pride in his athletes swells over the Atlantic. A Paralympian and 11-time competitor at Boston, Bleakney said he is constantly reminded how much his athletes give back to the community and added that “when the time is right” these competitors will give back to the city of Boston.
For the victims in Boston who lost limbs or suffered other life-changing injuries, the Paralympic athletes such as McFadden can serve in mentor roles, Bleakney said.
McFadden was born in Russia with spina bifida. Because she was not treated quickly, she became paralyzed from the waist down. Scaroni became paralyzed following a car accident. George was 8 when he fell from a 12-story window.
“We want to show that life can be lived in a glorious way, and you don’t need to have a fully functional body to do that,” McFadden said.
It’s a message especially relevant in Boston.
“We will do whatever we can to reach out to those in need in Boston,” Bleakney said. “All of these athletes are very passionate about helping others. We have been very proactive about community outreach and education and visiting with younger athletes.
“We pay it forward.”
Amy Rosewater is a freelance contributor to USParalympics.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.