Tatyana McFadden won the women's wheelchair division during the 2013 ING New York City Marathon
on Nov. 3, 2013, making her the first athlete to win four major marathons in one year.
NEW YORK – No push-rim wheelchair racer had ever won four major marathons in a calendar year.
And it wasn’t even a contest.
At the New York City marathon this morning, Tatyana McFadden led from start to finish to slay one of the toughest fields of women’s wheelers ever assembled.
It took the 24-year-old University of Illinois student 1 hour, 59 minutes, 13 seconds to complete a grand slam and add the 2013 New York City marathon title to victories in London, Boston and Chicago earlier this year.
Dominance wasn’t as easy as it looked, though.
“I was pretty nervous, especially after Chicago,” McFadden said afterwards. “In Chicago, I was very fatigued.” Prior to that race, she had also quietly dealt with a rib injury and worried that the pain would return in New York. McFadden was also nervous about flat tires which had knocked her out of contention in New York in 2009 and 2011.
Her fears were for naught.
The only time McFadden’s victory was challenged was when Wakako Tsuchida of Japan caught McFadden at the bottom of a hill around mile four.
After taking turns blocking the wind, McFadden surged on a climb, dropped the world record holder, and flew solo the rest of the way.
“I thought for sure they were going to catch me,” McFadden said. “I just had to re-focus and hit each climb hard, and keep a really fast, continuous pace. I had a plan, a plan B, and plan C. I just had to believe in myself and my training.”
By mile 8, McFadden had a one-minute lead. By mile 16, the gap had grown to a three-minute chasm.
Then, “all of a sudden I could feel it,” she said. “I could just see my speed slowing down from 15 [mph] to 12 to like 7.
“By mile 20, I was just exhausted,” she said — and not only from the pace and the headwind. It was months of studying while other athletes were resting, and a grueling race schedule with marathons held as few as six days apart. The course record would have to wait.
Pushing on with a four-minute lead, McFadden finally crossed the line to cap an extraordinary year — in which she also went six-for-six in gold medals at the International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships — to win her second New York City marathon. (She also won in 2010.) She earned $15,000 for first place and a $1,000 time bonus for finishing under two hours and one minute.
Tsuchida placed second (2:02:54), Manuela Schaer of Switzerland took third (2:03:53), and the defending champion and course record-holder Amanda McGrory placed fourth.
The marathon may be over, but McFadden’s not stopping.
McFadden, now a hopeful for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, poses with her "Go USA" mittens two days before the 2013 ING New York City Marathon. The mittens are a fundraiser for Team USA.
On Monday, she will fly back to Illinois to complete her degree in human development and begin training for a berth on the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team. In Sochi, McFadden hopes to compete in six events: three in cross-country skiing and three in biathlon.
McFadden’s cross-country skiing career began last year after a conversation with her friend Alana Nichols, a double gold medalist in alpine skiing at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.
“I said I really want to try skiing. Why not, right?” McFadden said. “She said, ‘Yeah, you’d be perfect. I could get the coach to talk to you.’”
And when he did, McFadden recalled, “He said, ‘I’m really happy you contacted us because if you didn’t contact us, we would have contacted you immediately. You’d be absolutely perfect for our sport.’”
Strength and endurance are not a problem. The challenge right now is technique.
Unlike wheelchair racing, McFadden will have to generate power with her arms higher overhead and use ski poles to steer. She will also have to enter and exit tracks in the snow.
“And learn how to get up when you fall,” she said. “I’ve been spending a lot of time in the snow.”
With time, McFadden is also picking up what she called, “little nitpicky techniques that can make you a little bit quicker, a little bit smarter, and to save energy.”
In addition, biathlon requires shooting. “We’ll see how that goes,” she said. “So far, I’ve just been learning to shoot then do my make-up laps.” Biathletes take penalty laps for each missed target.
In three months, the U.S. team will be named, and the best marathoner of 2013 will know whether she is Sochi-bound.
Then what? Go for another grand slam?
“I hope so,” McFadden said.
About a second later, when sanity overtook her instincts, she backpedaled slightly.
“We’ll see if I do marathons after Sochi, though. Maybe I’ll take some time off. That next year will be a re-foundation. The main goal is 2016 in Rio.”