Home News Paralympic Gold Meda...

Paralympic Gold Medalist Tatyana McFadden Taking Pandemic As Learning Opportunity

By Ryan Wilson | May 16, 2020, 8:05 a.m. (ET)

Tatyana McFadden poses for a photo at the Team USA Tokyo 2020 Paralympics shoot on Nov. 19, 2019 in West Hollywood, Calif.


Zoom calls and meetings, speeches, interviews and possibly a Nintendo Switch. 

Tatyana McFadden is keeping busy during the pandemic, and that is the way she likes it.

“Lots of Zoom meetings,” she said. “That’s been the really nice part — actually, kind of keeping the brain busy.”

During this period of uncertainty, McFadden said she has come to appreciate the consistency of a routine. She will get up at the same time every morning, eat breakfast, work out and sometimes work out again.

“It’s really important to keep a routine.”

Had it not been for the coronavirus pandemic, McFadden would be in Champaign, Illinois, training with her fellow racing teammates at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Site at the University of Illinois. The training center is equipped with adaptive technology, and there is easy access to all the necessary tools to workout.

However, when the pandemic hit and movement was restricted in the country, McFadden was in an apartment in Tallahassee, Florida. Her intentions were not to stay there for months, but she has been there since February, training alone.

“I’ve stayed here, because when everything happened, that was where I physically was,” she said. “I haven’t seen anybody in a while.”

She said she makes an effort to check in on friends and family. She will call her parents almost every single day, and she said she will reach out to friends if she is feeling lonely. 

She and her friends will even get creative in connecting — whether that’s watching a Netflix show or movie together through Zoom or playing games online.

She recently held a virtual girls’ night with teammates Chelsea McClammer, Arielle Rausin and Susannah Scaroni. McClammer might have convinced McFadden to buy a Nintendo Switch, and McFadden said it would “kind of keep my mind occupied.”

The seven-time Paralympic gold medalist said the uncertainty about how long she would be in Florida and when the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 would occur prompted her to connect with a psychologist with Team USA a while ago.

“We didn’t know when they would host the Games, and we don’t know, there was a lot of uncertainty even with the races in the fall."

“I think it’s good to talk about that. It’s good to talk about your concerns, your worries, your fears before you get into trouble.”

Download the Team USA app today to keep up with Para track & field and all your favorite sports, plus access to videos, Olympic and Paralympic team bios, and more.

The psychologist, McFadden said, taught her about the importance of having a routine, and calming the mind through meditation.

“All we can do is just take it day by day, knowing that we’re not alone,” she said. “A lot of people are feeling this way. It’s very new, and that’s all that we can do, is just do our best.”

Once government restrictions were in place, McFadden quickly got ahold of all she needed to exercise before supplies were limited. She now has a kettlebell, bands, medicine ball, and a 24-inch gymnastics dip bar. She will utilize house supplies to modify her workout. 

Her coach, Adam Bleakney, in Illinois, will frequently email a list of exercises to his athletes. His list has included using pots and pans for pushups and a table for pull-ups. His assistants will videotape themselves doing demonstrations, and they will share the recording.

The 17-time medalist McFadden also really finds enjoyment in pushing through streets and enjoying the warm weather of Florida. As opposed to temperatures fluctuating between the 40s and 60s in Champaign, she has consistently felt temperatures in the 70s and 80s.

“The warm weather has honestly been my saving grace in February and March, so it’s been really nice going outside.”

McFadden said this time in quarantine has taught her more about taking care of herself. Typically, she is traveling around the country, which can lead her to get sick. But, since she has not been traveling, she has felt better, and she said she is healthier.

Fresh fruit and vegetables in Florida help, too. She is cooking different meals and using different spices. She said she has made a “a lot” of good fish tacos, and her grandma taught her how to make a pie over FaceTime.

“I’ve stayed relatively healthy this year, because I haven’t gone anywhere,” she said. “That’s been a really nice change. It kind of forced me to slow down. It forced me to kind of take care of myself first, and I think that’s what I’ve enjoyed out of the whole thing.”

Ryan Wilson is a writer and independent documentary filmmaker from Champaign, Illinois. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

Related Athletes

head shot

Tatyana McFadden

Nordic Skiing
US Paralympics