Posted by Katie Peverada
On the morning of Oct. 9, 2011, I was standing on the Roosevelt Bridge in Chicago. I'd been standing under the "300m To Go" sign for what seemed like forever when, finally, a race car and the race clock it was carrying became visible. I realized that elite runners, my brother included, would not be finishing for at least another 35 minutes.
It was the wheelchair racers starting to finish the 2011 Chicago Marathon. I remember seeing four male racers in the same pack, but no one was breaking through. Kurt Fearnley of Australia ended up emerging from that pack and winning in a time of 1 hour, 29 minutes, 18 seconds. Over the course of the next 14 minutes, five more male wheelchair racers pushed up the hill and down the incline towards the finish line, always having at least one other racer pushing them and none of them breaking away.
But around 1:44:30 into the race, a singular wheelchair popped over the top of the hill and I became excited at the sight of a female racer. I watched her race by, watching her massive arms work and work.
Tatyana McFadden was by herself as she turned the corner for the last 250 meters to the finish line; her nearest competitor, male or female, was a full two minutes behind her. McFadden went on to finish the race in 1:45:03, winning the female division. At the time, I did not fully appreciate that McFadden had finished in a class of her own.
But now, two years later, I do.
This past weekend, McFadden again won the women's wheelchair division in the 2013 version of the Chicago Marathon in a time of 1:42:35, edging Manuela Schaer by two seconds. Her victory margin was smaller, but the significance of this race was far greater.
This year's victory made for McFadden's third-straight Chicago Marathon title and, in the process, she broke the 21-year-old course record by 1:54, adding to her already stellar year.
McFadden won the Boston Marathon on April 15 (1:45:24,) and, just six days later, the London Marathon (1:46:02).
Her win at Chicago this weekend solidified her place in history, as she became the first athlete, able-bodied or disabled, to win all three of those races in the same year.
And just as tennis has Grand Slams, so too does wheelchair racing. In three weeks on Nov.3, McFadden will compete in the New York Marathon, where a victory will give her a Grand Slam of racing.
McFadden's first Chicago Marathon victory in 2009 was also the first marathon she had ever competed in. Since then, McFadden has gone on to win New York (2010), Chicago (2009, 2011, 2012, and 2013), Boston (2013) and London (2013).
Despite all the success she has found racing the marathon distance, McFadden originally got her start in short distance sprints. She became a member of the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Team in 2003 and first competed at the 2004 Summer Paralympics, winning two medals at the age of 15. Since then, she has won 13 more medals in shorter distances at either the Olympics or the World Championships, nine of them of the golden variety.
McFadden is a senior Human Development and Family Services major at the University of Illinois where she also used to compete on the wheelchair basketball team. But besides focusing on her degree, McFadden also intends to compete for the U.S. at the 2014 Paralympic Games in Nordic skiing.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for McFadden, who was born in St. Petersburg, Russia with spina bifida. Paralyzed below the waist, McFadden lived in an orphanage until she was adopted by a family from Baltimore at the age of six and began participating in athletics soon after with many victories along the way.
McFadden, though successful thus far in her Nordic adventures, has a lot to learn heading into the Sochi Games, as she only picked up the sport in 2012. But if her Chicago Marathon victory in 2009 is any indication of her ability to pick up new events, she should have it mastered in no time.
And just as I saw in Chicago in 2011, I wouldn't be surprised if McFadden emerges from the pack.