U.S. wheelchair racing legend Tatyana McFadden said she was “on cloud nine” after winning her 18th Paralympic medal on Saturday, four years after blood clots almost ended her career.
McFadden took bronze in the women’s T54 5,000 meters to extend her streak of finishing on the podium in every Paralympic race she has entered since 2008.
But she said just competing in Tokyo was a victory in itself, having been diagnosed with a blood-clotting disorder in 2017 that took almost two years to recover from.
“I’m on cloud nine,” said the 32-year-old, who was born in Russia and raised in an orphanage until she was adopted at the age of 6.
“I was in a really dark spot because it took me 20 months to recover, and everyone was getting better in those 20 months. I continued to fight, I continued to believe in myself, and I continued to train really hard.”
McFadden said she could not even sit in her wheelchair for more than 30 minutes after being diagnosed with the condition, but she gradually regained strength and returned to competition.
“It’s really quite amazing that I’m here — that I was on the podium,” she said, after finishing the race behind teammate Susannah Scaroni, who won gold.
McFadden is set to compete in four more events in Tokyo, and may also add the relay to her schedule.
More medals would consolidate her position as one of the greatest Paralympians of all time, and she is determined to use her status to raise awareness around disability.
McFadden praised the U.S. team’s decision to award Paralympic medalists the same prize money as Olympians in Tokyo for the first time.
“These Games are monumental for us,” she said.
“If the U.S. can do it, the world can follow. I want us to be the leader.”
McFadden also believes increased media coverage of the Tokyo Paralympics can “transform the world.”
“Every banner, every T-shirt that a volunteer wears, you see the Olympic and Paralympic logos,” she said.
“That’s the first time that’s happened at a Games, and that’s really important for us. We’re really living in the now and it feels like it’s only going to go better.”
McFadden was born with spina bifida and is paralyzed from the waist down.
She was abandoned at an orphanage in St. Petersburg and did not have a wheelchair, so she learned to walk on her hands.
She was adopted at the age of six by Deborah Mcfadden, who served as commissioner of disabilities under U.S. President George W. Bush.
She then moved to the United States and began wheelchair racing, before making her Paralympic debut at the 2004 Athens Games.
“This is such an exciting movement and I’m just so happy to be in the game,” said McFadden, who also competed in cross-country skiing at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
“I think with my abilities, I can go only up from here. I have a while in this sport so I am so excited.”
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