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McFadden Sisters Aim To Continue Paralympic Journey Together In Rio

By Bill Kiser | July 01, 2016, 4:03 p.m. (ET)

Tatyana McFadden (L) and Hannah McFadden look on after the women's 100-meter T54 Final at the London 2012 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on Sept. 8, 2012 in London.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Tatyana McFadden and her younger sister, Hannah, have grown up together, trained together, and competed together and against each other.

Now they’re trying to do one more thing together — earn a trip to Rio.

The McFadden sisters are attempting to make the U.S. Paralympic Team’s track and field squad that will compete in the 2016 Games, scheduled for Sept. 7-18 in Rio de Janeiro. It would be their second Paralympic Games together, after having both competed in London in 2012. 

“It’s a really cool experience,” said Tatyana McFadden, 27, of Champaign, Illinois. “People don’t really understand how hard it actually is to train and compete, but Hannah understands because she’s going through the same exact thing. So we can lean on each other in certain aspects, which is really cool.” 

Tatyana and Hannah McFadden are both competing at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials, which began Thursday at Johnson C. Smith University’s Irwin Belk Complex.

The McFadden sisters are entered together in four events — the T54 women’s 100-, 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter runs — while Tatyana McFadden is also attempting to make the team in the T54 women’s 5,000-meter run. She has also already qualified for the Games in the marathon, where she’s a heavy favorite. 

“It’s a different feeling — you usually have seven competitors against you, but you also have that one competitor who’s not only a competitor, but she’s also cheering for you,” said Hannah McFadden, 20, also of Champaign, Illinois.

“So if I can’t win, I want Tatyana to win. You always have the best hopes for each other. In the call room, where a lot of the emotion comes, we try to keep each other calm and just have fun.”

Tatyana McFadden won twice during Thursday’s trials — the 800 in 1 minute, 48.58 seconds, which was 0.44 seconds ahead of Amanda McGrory; and the 5,000 in 11:38.93, which was 0.19 seconds ahead of Chelsea McClammer. 

Hannah McFadden, despite getting off to a strong start in the 800 and running second at the end of the first lap behind her sister, faded on the second lap and finished fourth in 1:51.34 — 0.77 seconds behind Susannah Scaroni.

Both McFadden sisters are among the world’s best wheelchair athletes, according to the latest rankings by the IPC. 

Tatyana is ranked No. 1 in all five events she’s competing in at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials, while Hannah is ranked No. 3 in the 100, No. 7 in the 400, No. 8 in the 1,500 and No. 10 in the 800. She’s also ranked No. 3 in the 200.

“They both are great people — we’re definitely fortunate and blessed to have them as part of our team,” said Adam Bleakney, the McFaddens’ coach on the University of Illinois’ wheelchair track and field team. “They both share a lot of similarities — their work ethic, their diligence, and they’re very committed to the goals that they set for themselves.

“But then they’re also unique — obviously, they have different personalities, and within the framework of being very committed and very diligent, they approach that element a little differently.” 

Tatyana McFadden, who was born in Russia and adopted by Maryland native Debbie McFadden at age 6, is a Paralympic Games veteran, having made the U.S. team in multiple events in the past three summer Games — 2004 in Athens, 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London — and in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. 

In addition to being one of the most-experienced members of Team USA, Tatyana McFadden is also one of the most decorated athletes with 11 Paralympic medals, including three gold medals from the 2012 London Games (in the women’s 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter).

However, Hannah McFadden, who was born in Albania and adopted by Debbie McFadden shortly after birth, is no stranger to the Paralympic Games herself — she made the team for the London Games, finishing eighth in the 100-meter as a 16-year-old. But both said that Hannah making Team USA this year would be more memorable than the 2012 team.

“The first (Paralympics), you really don’t know what you’re doing or what to expect,” Hannah McFadden said. “This time around, I know what to expect, I know what I want for myself, I’m prepared to get what I want. That would make a difference. 

“The first time, you’re like, ‘Oh, this is so exciting, I’m just happy to be here.’ But the second one, you have visions of medals. You know exactly where you need to be, so you’re more focused.”

Said Tatyana McFadden: “Because I’ve grown in this sport, and she’s really grown in this sport, we’re both coming in smarter. That’d definitely make it extra special.”

Bill Kiser is a sportswriter based in North Carolina. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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