5 Things You Should Know About Paralympic Legend Tatyana McFadden

If you never watched the Paralympics before they began broadcasting in primetime this year, you may not have ever had the opportunity to see Tatyana McFadden compete — but she's one athlete who should definitely be on your radar. The 32-year-old wheelchair racer has spent years racking up accolades, including 17 Paralympic medals — and despite the fact that the Tokyo Paralympics were postponed for a year, she's ready to shine once again.

Tatyana is also a powerful advocate for the disability community. "There's a big misconception that disabled people are seen as medical conditions," Tatyana told POPSUGAR in a previous interview. "They aren't seen as elite athletes, and so that's a stereotype that [Paralympic athletes] are trying to break right now." Tatyana is certainly no stranger to breaking the mold. Here are five things you should know about the six-time Paralympian and seven-time gold medalist.


She Was Adopted From an Orphanage in Russia

Tatyana was born in Russia, where she spent the first six years of her life in an orphanage. The orphanage couldn't afford a wheelchair for Tatyana, who has spina bifida and is paralyzed from the waist down, so she learned to walk on her hands.

She was adopted by Deborah McFadden and her partner Bridget O'Shaughnessy, after Deborah — who worked as a commissioner for disabilities in the US Department of Health and Human Services — met Tatyana during a tour of the facility. "After she left, I ran around telling the other kids, even the director, 'That's my mom. She's going to be my mom,'" Tatyana told People. Deborah felt the same way: "I still can't explain the connection we had, but there was no question in my mind that she was supposed to be my child," she said.


She Had a Law Passed in Her Honor After a Legal Battle With Her High School

Tatyana experienced discrimination in high school, when school officials refused to allow her to compete on the track team alongside her nondisabled classmates. She and her family sued the high school and won. That victory paved the way for a state law — known as Tatyana's Law — and eventually, a national mandate that ensures that disabled students are given the opportunity to participate in their schools' athletic programs.


She Has Competed Alongside Her Sister in the Paralympics

Tatyana's fight for equal opportunity in sports had even more meaning because of her younger sister Hannah, who's a two-time Paralympian herself. In 2012, they became the first siblings to compete together at the Paralympic Games, even facing off in the 100m (a race in which Tatyana won bronze).

She's the First Athlete Ever to Win a Marathon Grand Slam
Getty | Elsa / Staff

She's the First Athlete Ever to Win a Marathon Grand Slam

Outside of her Paralympics and World Championships success, Tatyana — who's long been called "The Beast" because of her ability to climb hills — is an accomplished marathoner. In 2013, she became the first athlete to ever achieve a marathon Grand Slam, winning the wheelchair divisions of the Boston, London, Chicago, and New York marathons in a single year. She went on to complete the Grand Slam in four consecutive years.

She Helped Produce a Netflix Documentary About the Paralympic Games

She Helped Produce a Netflix Documentary About the Paralympic Games

Rising Phoenix, which arrived on Netflix in 2020, tells the story of the history of the Paralympic Games and features a number of Paralympic athletes, including Tatyana. "That was a surprise to me and I was honored that they chose me to be part of it," Tatyana told Team USA about her appearance in the film. "I had no idea until they told me."