The Girl Who Won’t Slow Down

As she returns to the TCS New York City Marathon in quest of her third-consecutive Grand Slam, Tatyana McFadden is writing a children’s book—a challenge among challenges.

“It’s kind of like a marathon in itself,” she says of Ya Sama! “It’s much harder than I expected.”

Even without this latest project, McFadden, an 11-time Paralympic medalist, would be one of the busiest athletes on the planet this fall. In addition to jamming a four-month semester of graduate school at the University of Illinois into just eight weeks, she broke the course record with her victory at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon (qualifying for the 2016 Paralympics in the process) and accepted the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award at a Women’s Sports Foundation gala in New York.

A win on Sunday would be McFadden’s fourth at the TCS New York City Marathon, and would give her another Grand Slam of victories in the Boston, London, Chicago, and New York marathons.

“I don’t know how she does it,” says her mother, Deb, of McFadden’s ability to add writing to her already-hectic schedule. “She says that it helps her focus; that it’s all about priorities.”

McFadden, 26, calls the book, which is expected to be available sometime next spring, “a new kind of journey.” It began a few days before the 2012 race in Chicago, when a 4-year-old girl with spina bifida asked if she could meet the athlete she watched faithfully on YouTube to learn about wheelchair racing. Soon, the awestruck but fearless Addison Zellner, with her red wheelchair and blue eyeglasses, was racing her hero down the hall outside the pre-race press conference.

“I realized that I could be a positive example for her, and indeed for all children, by showing them and their parents that anything is possible.” says McFadden in a video for the Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $50,000 for worldwide distribution of the self-published book and accompanying coloring and activity books to schools and other organizations.

“When a child is born with a disability, the medical diagnoses are predicated on what he or she cannot do,” Deb says. “A lot of these parents don’t have hope for the future.”

The three-book project is anchored by the centerpiece story in which McFadden traces her life from the six years she spent in a Russian orphanage after being born with spina bifida through her adoption, discovery of sports, and international success.

“Ya Sama!” is a phrase Deb heard often when her adopted daughter was little: Not surprisingly, it translates to, “I can do it myself.” Yet both are quick to point out that McFadden’s journey is not of the one, but of the many.

“Whatever dream I had, it never seemed impossible or unimaginable” to her family, says McFadden. Now it’s her turn to help.

“I want people to be inspired by what I am and what I do, not because I’m a girl in a wheelchair,” says McFadden. “Life brings much more than that.”

By Barbara Huebner

Watch the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon on November 1 on WABC-TV, Channel 7, in the New York tri-state area from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. EST and watch it across the country on ESPN2 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. EST.

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