Illini marathoner: Role model

Illini marathoner: Role model

LONDON — Tatyana McFadden’s thrill at winning her first Boston Marathon wheelchair title didn’t last long.

Shortly after leaving the Boston streets to prepare for a night of celebrations,

McFadden’s family informed her of the bombings near the finish line that killed three people and injured more than 180.

“They had this glazed look on their faces and it was like, `What happened, what is going on?”’ the Illinois junior said Friday. “And they said two explosions had gone off. ... We were watching the replay over and over and over and over and over. That was just the toughest part to see, the mad chaos, people running, people were injured.”

Along with five teammates, McFadden scrambled out of Boston onto a flight to her Baltimore home.

“It was just muted. ... I wasn’t even worried about celebrating,” she said. “You just think about others immediately. I guess celebration will come down later in the road. ... so we’ll see on Sunday.”

Sunday is McFadden’s 24th birthday. It will be marked by a defiant return to action in the London Marathon.

“We will be racing for the people in Boston,” she said from her hotel overlooking the River Thames. “So I’ll be carrying them in my heart.”

Giving into the terrorists was never in doubt.

“There is no concern about running on Sunday,” McFadden said. “We can’t live our lives in fear because then we are letting those people (the bombers) win and that’s not what’s it about. It’s about trying to continue life and help those cope with the heartache.”

And sports could help inspire those trying to recover. It’s a simple mission for McFadden.

“I feel it’s my responsibility,” she said.

“It’s important as an elite runner — and an elite runner with a disability — to be a role model to those who especially who are newly injured and I think it’s important for me to be an advocate,” she added. “I go everywhere just to talk about disability and rebirthing life. I have lived with many challenges in my life, every single day, and so I know somewhat of what it’s like.”

Doctors never expected McFadden to be alive.

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, with spina bifida, McFadden was abandoned in an orphanage, fighting for life. She walked on her hands for six years before being adopted by an American family and beginning a new life in Baltimore.

“That was my rebirth of life,” she said. “The doctors said, `You have very little time to live, you are just so sick, we are going to try to do the best we can.’

“It’s about nurture and that’s what we need to do for the people in Boston. ... That’s how you help to continue a longer life.”

McFadden knows that all too well as she prepares to compete again in the London, where she won three gold medals on the track during the Paralympics last year.

On Sunday, she’ll have a black ribbon pinned to her top, and the thoughts of the Boston victims will be on her mind as she races through the British capital.

Crossing the line first in front of Buckingham Palace, and capturing a second major title in a week, won’t just be a personal triumph. It will be a victory for sports, according to McFadden, a demonstration that athletes won’t cower to terrorists.

“There are always going to be a few bad people in this world but the majority are good,” McFadden said. “It’s about not letting those bad people win and ... showing, `Hey, we’re not going to let this stop us.”’