Tatyana McFadden: the wheelchair muse

Her mother had enrolled her in various sports activities at 6. Her mother had encouraged her to “try anything.” Her mother had wanted her to be with all of her friends because, she was told, ‘it is only through falling down that one learns to get up.’

Unfortunately, Tatyana McFadden was turned away and sequestered to a corner seat while the other children like her run, swim and climb ropes.” Her school principal and playmates also treated her warily “when all [I] really wanted was to be included.”

Tatyana was born with spina bifida. She spent the first six years of her life in an orphanage without any medical assistance. She couldn’t stand up on her own, much less walk on her feet.

But Tatyana could swim. She could climb a rope faster than most. She could walk on her hands, prompted by an American family who adopted her when she was six years old.

“Throughout my first years the one thing I was often heard saying was ‘ya sama, which, in Russian, literally means, ‘I, myself.’ It was my declaration of independence. It was my battle cry — to try, to do and, as I have found, to succeed,” Tatyana had recounted in the report.

So Tatyana continued to live in Champaign. She is a University of Illinois alumna and has won 11 Paralympic medals, 14 in World Major marathons, and broken 15 world championship titles.

Recently, though, Tatyana has been barred to participate in the Red Bull’s Wings for Life World Run. Its new rules stipulate that participants cannot use racing chairs and must be accompanied by a “support person.”

“However, this change is inadvertently reinforcing the idea that those of us with existing spinal cord injuries are somehow less than whole persons. My injury is permanent. It has resulted in atrophied legs that I will never be able to walk on. That is the reality of how my body works. I accept this. But it does not define who I am. In the course of my life, I have discovered my own talents and abilities within the body that I have been given. I dislike the term disability, it infers I do not have ability or my abilities are somehow less than that of others. On the contrary, I have abilities others don’t,” Tatyana added in the report.

“In addition, by creating one rule for all disabled people Red Bull is perpetuating a stereotype that people with disabilities are all the same and all need assistance — and, by themselves, are not capable of doing something like racing. Instead it should be a person’s right on how they choose to race, be it with a guide runner, prosthetic leg, everyday wheelchair or a racing wheelchair.”

The Red Bull’s Wings for Life World Run aims to “bring focus on disabilities” and “donate 100 percent of the entry fees to spinal cord research.” Tatyana believes that all of us have disabilities. Some are just more visible and debilitating.

“I believe, however, we all have the ability to achieve greatness in our lives — greatness that often comes out of the crucible of adversity. All it takes is strength, stamina, imagination and the support of the people and the society around us.”

“Living with a disability does not limit one’s ability to excel in life. Let’s not let our society, or some element within it, clip our wings.” ~Tatyana McFadden

Video taken from the YouTube Channel of the BPTeamUSA

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