ACES senior McFadden wins gold in Boston, will return to comfort and inspire victims

April 17, 2013
Tatyana McFadden holds up her first-place trophy at Boston Marathon

Since this story was written, McFadden won the gold medal in Sunday's London Marathon.

URBANA – Gold medal from the Boston Marathon in hand, University of Illinois wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden is headed to London for her next race on Sunday, but she hasn’t forgotten the bombing victims she is leaving behind—especially those who have lost one or more of their limbs.

“We want to come back and show people who lost legs in the explosion and suffered other traumatic injuries that life can still be glorious even after a loss like that. We’re living, breathing examples of it,” said McFadden, a senior in the U of I’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES).

Tatyana’s mother Deborah found a ride out of Boston for the 14 U of I teammates who still planned to compete in the London Marathon after Monday’s explosions at the celebrated race that killed three people and injured many more.

As SWAT teams canvassed the team’s hotel for bombs, Deborah McFadden searched for a way to transport the competitors to Tatyana’s family home in Baltimore. There the athletes wound down from the event itself and processed the terror that followed it. And the young women soon began to talk about returning to help in the way they are particularly qualified to do.

“These girls have all had their own accidents—their own traumas—to deal with, and they all want to give back to others who are just starting out on this journey,” said Deborah McFadden.

“Tatyana, who will graduate in May as a child life specialist, was born with spina bifida and lived in a Russian orphanage before she became a part of our family. She has always wanted to work with children in hospitals, helping them get through their struggles and emphasizing that nothing is impossible,” her mother said.

“And Susannah Scaroni, a U of I wheelchair racer who finished sixth at Boston, wants to share her experiences following the car accident at age five that left her unable to use her legs. Her unique journey also led her to the U of I College of ACES, a major in sports nutrition, and competitive athletics,” she continued.

For now, the athletes’ challenge is to regain and maintain their focus, Deborah McFadden added. “There are still big things for them to accomplish in London and elsewhere.”

Tatyana’s goal is to win all four of the major marathons—Boston, London, Chicago, and New York—this year, and, according to Coach Adam Bleakney, she has the ability to do it.

But each race is different and comes with its own challenges, Tatyana noted.

“I started off last in Boston, and I was very far behind, but I stayed focused, caught the pack around mile 13, then passed them, and led for the rest of the race,” she said.

The London course is very flat, unlike the hilly Boston route, requiring the racers to adjust and use different tactics, she said.

But these student athletes are good at making adjustments. After graduating in May, Tatyana will look for a position that will allow her to train for races in the summer, including the world championships in France. Then she’ll begin to train in earnest for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

For now, the Boston gold medalist with the heart of gold is taking one race at a time. And she’s dedicating the next race—the London Marathon—to the people of Boston.

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