Wheelchair Athlete

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She’s a world-class athlete, and she’s been called an inspiration.  But success didn’t come easily for young Tatyana McFadden, who’s come a long way from a Russian orphanage to a new life in the United States. Reed Galin has more.

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(Locator: Clarksville, MD)

Tatyana McFadden/Paralympic Athlete: “I never use the word ‘can’t.’”

16-year-old Tatyana (TAH-TON-YAH) McFadden focuses on what she “can” do. That doesn’t leave out very much.

Tatyana McFadden/Paralympic Athlete: “When someone writes ‘disabilities,’ they should cross out the ‘dis’ and just keep the ‘ability.’”

Most Saturdays, the Clarksville, Maryland teenager is practicing ice hockey. Or, helping coach other wheelchair athletes in basketball and football.

Gerry Herman/Coach: “She has a drive to use her ability to do the best job in anything that she undertakes.”

Tatyana is a top athlete in the Paralympics. She’s the second-fastest wheelchair racer in the world.

Deborah McFadden/Tatyana’s Mother: “When she came from Russia, her word was ‘yasimah.’ ‘Yasimah’ means not just ‘I can to it, I can do it myself.’”

Deborah McFadden adopted Tatyana from a Russian orphanage. She was born with Spina Bifida, a hole in her spine that keeps her from walking, but not from learning how to drive.

Tatyana McFadden/Paralympic Athlete: “My strength comes from my family and my friends. They’ve all supported me and they love me very much.”

Tatyana inspires her nine-year-old sister, Hannah, who is also in a wheelchair.

Hannah McFadden/Tatyana’s Sister: “She’s been like the person who I looked up to for all my problems.”

And when Tatyana had trouble navigating the stairs at her United Methodist Church, members put in an elevator.

Ruth Agwuna (Aguna)/Linden-Linthicum United Methodist Church: “Just seeing her and seeing the odds with which she has to go through life makes you look at your own self and see that you can do anything that you want to do, as long as you believe.”


Tatyana’s mom said she had no intention of adopting a Russian child, but when she stepped into the orphanage her life changed. Tatyana said after meeting Deborah, she turned to her friends at the orphanage and asserted that Deborah would be her new mom.