Tatyana McFadden

Ali on the Run Show Episode 115: Tatyana McFadden, 17-Time Paralympic Medalist

I never thought of myself as someone who was different.” —Tatyana McFadden

Tatyana McFadden is one of the most decorated athletes on the planet. She’s a 17-time Paralympic medalist, and she has won 24 World Marathon Majors. In 2013 alone, she won the Boston, Chicago, London, and New York City marathons. In 2015, she shattered the New York City Marathon record by 7 minutes and 20 seconds. But Tatyana wasn’t born into success — she was born in Russia with Spina Bifida, a disease that left her paralyzed from the waist down. She spent the first six years of her life in an orphanage, crawling on her hands because she didn’t have access to a wheelchair. At six years old, everything changed: Tatyana was adopted by Deborah McFadden, who at the time was the Commissioner of Disabilities for the Bush administration and happened to be at the orphanage on a business trip. Tatyana moved to the United States, was introduced to sports as a way to get strong, and by 15 was competing at the Paralympics. In addition to her outstanding athletic accomplishments, Tatyana is an outspoken advocate for people living with disabilities, and later this spring she’ll complete her master’s degree in pursuit of a career as a child life specialist.

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What you’ll get on this episode:

  • Tatyana talks about her childhood and what it was like growing up with Spina Bifida in an orphanage in Russia and how she made her way to becoming a world-class athlete (2:55)
  • Tatyana’s take on the word “disability” (10:50)
  • What exactly is Spina Bifida? (13:35)
  • What brought Tatyana’s mom to the orphanage in Russia (17:00)
  • What it was like having a disability in high school, and how Tatyana went on to create an important law for high schools around the country — and then meet the Obamas and Ellen DeGeneres (19:00)
  • How Tatyana became confident and outspoken (27:40)
  • Why Tatyana decided to go all-in on the marathon, and what it’s like racing in a chair (30:30)
  • What Tatyana’s training looks like before a goal race (38:30)
  • What it means to be brave (41:00)
  • What can people do to make life easier for people with disabilities? (44:30)
  • Tatyana on insecurities, grad school, what she’s proudest of, and what’s next (47:40)

What we mention on this episode:

Kennedy Krieger Institute

NormaTec Recovery

Tatyana on The Ellen DeGeneres Show

TCS New York City Marathon

New York Road Runners

Team For Kids

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3 Responses

  1. Love the discussion about person-first language! This is what we were taught when I was getting my master’s degree in occupational therapy and I think it is a great message to be spread!

  2. Love the discussion about person-first language! This is what we were taught when I was getting my master’s degree in occupational therapy and I think it is a great message to be spread!

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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