Tatyana McFadden

I was once told a story about how the act of walking is actually a series of motions—falling forward and then catching oneself—that you can’t consciously walk if you think about placing one foot in front of another. Each step is about letting go and then trusting that you will catch yourself. And that the act of walking is a metaphor for life.

I have thought long about this idea. As someone who has never walked I found the idea both interesting and perplexing. I was born with spina bifida with my spine exposed outside of my body. I can never walk—at least in the conventional way. Getting around as a child I learned to walk, not on my feet, but on my hands. I look back now, seeing the situation in which I was born, a child without functioning legs. I have thought about all of the “what ifs” and have come to realize that the person and athlete I am today is because of what happened to me, not in spite of it.

I spent the first six years of my life in an orphanage in St. Petersburg, Russia. There were no wheelchairs. There were no rehabilitation programs. I never settled for my situation and was blessed with a creative and curious soul. Without the ability to walk on my feet, rather than drag myself around I learned to balance myself on my hands and “walk”. This became natural to me. And when I wanted something that was out of reach I would just pull myself up and climb from shelf to shelf.

I realize now that those aspects of me that others might have seen as limitations have led to my unique talents and have made me who I am today. I am not an example of someone who has survived against all odds, but a full- and able-bodied person who is exactly what I am because of all that has happened me. The situation of how I was born and where I was raised made me exactly who I am. I do not dwell on what could have been. Instead I look to what can be.

NYC MarathonRecently when racing in the NYC Marathon, I cut a corner too tight and fell over in my racing chair. I was in the last 1/4 mile of winning the race. I immediately scrambled back into my chair and kept on going and won the race.

My life has been full of so many such “disasters” that I have come to learn that they are inevitable.  I trust myself to get back up and get back into the race. I could have lost this marathon, but I knew that regardless of the outcome of the race I was winning at something much greater.

Most of us make assumptions that there are things in life that we can’t do, so we just don’t try to do them. If I have lived my life in that way I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I learned to turn my disability into possibility. Each of us is unique. We are given life without a blue print or road map—without directions. Often others try to tell us where we can and can’t go, they ask us why rather than why not?

As a new year is upon us, I have a challenge for all of my friends. Take a look at your lives and make a list of the things that you think that you can not do, and then, once a month, go ahead and try to do just one of those things. Be creative, be courageous, and then please share your experience with me. I would love to hear about your New Year’s Challenge.

Let me leave you with one last quote from sports legend Michael Jordan, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Please email me at tatyana@tatyanamcfadden.com. I look forward to hearing from you. Happy New Year!


  • bthotwheels

    Great Post Tatyana. I finished my BA in Sports and Recreational Management, year a life long goal I finally achieved and over came those doubters who said I couldn’t.

    I have loved sports my whole life. Recently I have been trying to get back into shape and finally become an independent snow skiier on the bi-ski. I also have a goal to work in the sports industry while persuing masters degree in Organizational Growth and Sales.

    Like you I was born with Spina Bifida. I have loved to swim, and play as many sports as I can. When I was a teenager in the mid-to late 80s adaptive sports was just starting to take off. I am so haapy to see how far things have come thanks to athletes like u others who have really brought things to the main stage.

    Best wishes in your new year with all the success you deserve. Keep doing you and you will always be a success.


  • Jana Jane Kim

    Great Post Tatyana. I do not pay attention to IQ scores because I know a lot of people who are smart but who keep giving up. My rival Diamond Glasscoe for one thing. She doesn’t try hard, but she gets easy A’s.

  • Jana Jane Kim

    When I’m 34 or something, I plan to go to Syria to adopt Jenny McGuire, a girl with spina bifida (from Damascus), and I’ll get her in handicapped powerlifting.
    I will tell Jenny that it’s not how you start; it’s how you finish.

  • Jana Jane Kim

    Tatyana, Syrians are culturally African-American. Phoenicians have DARK SKIN if you look closer (even though their hair might be dirty blonde), meaning they are descended from black people. So Jenny’s race will be African-American.

  • Jana Jane Kim

    “No! Ah ah! Jenny, shush!” I will tell Jenny.

  • Jana Jane Kim

    When I’m 39, I plan to go to Ecuador to adopt Maria McGuire, a girl with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and spina bifida. Do you know what a stranger is? Maria doesn’t. Do you know what danger is? Maria doesn’t.

  • Jana Jane Kim

    I even plan to go to Mexico when I grow up to adopt Grace Romero, a girl with autism and cerebral palsy. But the reason why Grace is going to be on the honor roll is because she tries hard.
    Grace is intellectually normal (her psychological challenge is more Asperger’s syndrome); her smartness is why she will go to a normal school. Some children who have both cerebral palsy and autism go to a normal school because they’re mentally competent.

  • Jana Jane Kim

    Autism does not mean Grace will be stupid; it means she learns differently.

  • Jana Jane Kim

    Grace is Hispanic. Her family is Mexican.

  • Jana Jane Kim

    A person of color is someone who is not Caucasian. Jenny (a person of color of Mediterranean descent), Maria (a person of color of Hispanic descent), and Grace ( a person of color of Mexican descent) are all minorities.

  • Jana Jane Kim

    “No! Ah ah! Jenny, shush!”

  • Alice

    Hi, Tatyana, I just watched you win the London 2016 marathon a few minutes ago! Congratulations!

    I came to your site to learn more about you. Your story and spirit are truly inspiring.

    I am a former so-so high school athlete and hurt my back in my 20s, which has affected my whole body, especially my feet, knees and shoulders. With a PT who was excellent because she knew craniosacracral and Feldenkrais, I worked my way back to walking and riding a bike around 20 miles/week, over a period of 10 years. I’m now in my 50s, have had several downturns, and am struggling to walk again the last few months after some injuries and illnesses. But I’m walking a little again, back in Feldenkrais classes and have a fantastic PTwho is a senior and so is very knowledge and experienced, who is also a Feldenkrais practitioner. I’m just starting to walk in the pool at the Y now 2-3x/week, and figure if I keep just showing up at the Y 3x/week, and eventually 5x, good things will happen. Right now I must focus on not over-doing it to avoid big setbacks and make steadier progress. Everyone is very encouraging at the Y. My goals are to be able to walk up and down a flight of stairs and to be back on a bike (probably a trike) by Jan. 1, for the first time in 9 years. Wish me luck as it will be a huge challenge. I also have a goal to be conversationally fluent in Spanish by then (self-taught, writing 20 new words/week on electronic flashcards on Cram.com) It’s enjoyable and helps to set goals. Do you do the same, and if so, what are some examples of your first goals, and what are your goals now, Tatyana? Thanks for your inspiration and congrats again on your big win in London today! Best wishes to you in reaching all of your dreams.