Athletes & Celebrities

The Incredible Athlete to Watch at the New York City Marathon

Tatyana McFadden is the fastest wheelchair racer of all time, and she’s taking on 26.2 hilly miles this weekend for her final athletic feat this year.

The Incredible Marathoner We Can’t Wait to Watch in New York City
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Tatyana McFadden became the most accomplished champion in wheelchair history after winning her seventh Chicago marathon this October. She’s the fastest wheelchair racer of all time, winning 17 Paralympic medals, including seven gold medals, and setting the world record in every track event. She most recently competed in the Rio Games, where she finished with six medals, four gold and two silver, the most medals by a U.S. Track & Field athlete at a Paralympics since 1992. We chatted with McFadden shortly after her return from Rio and before she embarked on the Chicago marathon. Learn more about this American athlete we’ll be cheering for at the TCS New York City marathon this Sunday, where she'll be looking for her fourth straight victory sweep of the Boston, London, Chicago, and New York marathons for the fourth year in a row.

Muscle & Fitness Hers: Can you tell us a little bit about what those final moments were like when you were crossing the finish line for the 26.2-mile event in Rio? [Editor's note: McFadden placed second to China’s Lihong Zou in a photo finish. The two finished in 1 hour, 38 minutes, 44 seconds, setting a Paralympic record.]

Tatyana McFadden: Rio was quite a journey. I did seven events, from the 100 meter all the way up to the marathon, which was on the last day and of course, the hardest one. Crossing the finish line, I was just really happy to be in the top three finishers because it’s been a long week and I knew that was going to be the hardest race. The course was very flat so it was a very, very technical race, and I haven’t raced in that flat of a course in a long time.  I knew it was going to be challenging, and some of the athletes were really fresh because they hadn’t raced yet so that was also a toss as well.

M&F Hers: Had any of the other athletes done any of the other sprint races that week?

TM: No, I was the only athlete competing in the marathon that raced the sprints. I completed the 100, the 400, and the 800 T54. But other than that, I was focused on the distance race.

M&F Hers: Can you tell us about your mental game going into that endurance event after a long, tough week already?

TM: I definitely was just trying to finish strong because you get tired and it gets harder and harder. I started off the week really fresh but then with the scheduling, I just keep going and going and going. I only had two breaks, one right after the 100-meter and then one right before the 800- meter and then the following day I had the 800 final, and then the marathon the next day. So it was a really, really tough turnaround but you know, I just had to focus on eating, recovering, trying to get as much sleep as possible, and just getting ready for the next event and focusing on what I needed to do.

M&F Hers: Can you tell us a little bit about what it’s like to earn that many medals there?

TM: I made history [with those medal wins], which is amazing. To come from such an amazing program, one through a local sports program when I grew up, and now being part of such a great college program at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, it’s just unbelievable to win four golds and it’s just been such an amazing journey. I set high goals, but I’m definitely proud of my achievements.

M&F Hers: Can you tell us some of the specific exercises that help train you for the events that you do?

TM: So I do a lot of different types of training [with my coaches and team]. In the winter we do a lot of weightlifting, bench pressing, and just differentm, heavy weight workouts, to build that mass. When it gets to the spring, we kind of turn it over to the medicine ball, and we also do cardio, which is a really important part of the racing.

M&F Hers: A lot of our readers have that tough day when they’re not motivated to work out. For you, what do you do if you wake up and really don’t feel like training?

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TM: There are definitely moments that are tough for me, especially if it’s raining outside or I'm sick, or even at the Games when I was just trying to get to that final home stretch. You just go work out because you really enjoy it, and I really enjoy wheelchair racing. So, maybe I play a favorite song, or I eat my favorite food right before I go, or just really remember why I’m doing it, and just switching over to a more positive note when things are getting tougher.

M&F Hers: What do you do with your downtime?

TM: With my downtime, I’m hoping to start a foundation, and I do have a children’s book out called Ya Sama: Moments from My Life and it's kind of a story about my journey, my adoption, how I got involved with racing, and my very first Games. I think it was really important for me to put that out there so people can have a quick, easy read but understand a lot of my journey.

M&F Hers:  BMW designed your racing wheelchair. Tell us about that.

TM: Yeah, I’m really lucky to have sponsorship throughout the game, and the BMW sponsorship is really an important one because they really helped changed the evolution of the sport. They designed a chair, an all-carbon fiber racing chair and so it’s very stiff, very aerodynamic. It’s like running shoes, you have different forms of running shoes and we needed different forms of racing chairs, and technology plays a huge role. We needed a chair that’s very aerodynamic and that’s pretty fast. So the USA picked it up, and that’s the first time in history that’s happened for us, and it was a big success at the Games so we’re hoping for that continuation. It was really, really exciting for us to just get to see the change in the chairs. It’s been about a two-year process of [training on them].

M&F Hers: What’s next for this year?

TM: After I close out the season with two Abbott World Major Marathons (Chicago and New York), I’ll take a nice vacation!