By Linh Bui

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — She’s one in a million and defines determination. Maryland’s Tatyana McFadden has brought home medals from all over the world, but her greatest message is not just about winning, it’s about believing you can do anything.

Linh Bui has her powerful story.

Tatyana McFadden is one of the greatest athletes in the world. She just won the London and Boston marathons and has 11 medals in the Paralympics. Now back in Maryland, she’s setting her sights on the next challenge.

“I’m always open to trying new sports and pushing my body to the limit,” said McFadden.

Tatyana’s story is one of overcoming incredible challenges. She was born with spina bifida, and paralyzed from the waist down. Given up by her birth mother, she spent her early life in a Russian orphanage, too poor to buy her a wheelchair.

“I got around walking around on my hands for six years. I wanted to be able to do things by myself,” she explained.

To understand Tatyana’s story, you need to meet her equally amazing adoptive mother, Debbie. A business trip to St. Petersburg, Russia led her to Tatyana’s orphanage. They bonded instantly.

“Tatyana was this bundle of energy. She’s crawling on the floor. I just had a great time with her,” said Debbie McFadden.

“One day, this woman came in and I looked at her, and I really do believe in fate and that everything happens for a reason, and something just came about me and I just said, ‘That’s going to be my mom,’” said Tatyana.

“Unbeknownst to me, Tatyana told the orphanage director, ‘That’s my mom,’ and when I asked her later, I said, ‘Oh, she probably said that to anyone who paid attention,’ and she said, ‘No, she’s never said that.’ So, it was meant to be,” said Debbie.

And Debbie did what she hadn’t even imagined before she left on her trip. She adopted Tatyana and brought her back to the U.S. But Tatyana was very weak, so to make her stronger, Debbie got her into sports.

“She had this expression that she would say. In Russian, it means not only I can do it, but I can do it myself,” said Debbie.

As Tatyana’s strength improved, she overcame great odds—competing, excelling—and when all of her hard work brought her back to Russia, her dreams came full circle.

In a very special moment, Tatyana’s birth mother watched her win the silver in the Sochi Paralympic Games—her Russian and American families together for the first time.

“For me, I loved bringing the two families together,” said Tatyana. “Heritage is really important, and it’s about knowing who you are. I wanted to meet my mom because she had to do the hardest thing as a mom, carrying a child for nine months, bonding, then having to give it up because she couldn’t take care of it.”

“There’s a poem that says–I told her birth mother–it’s a poem called ‘Two Mothers.’ It’s one gave you life, one helped you to live it; one gave you your seeds of talent, one helped you develop it. And I feel that she is a part of all of that,” said Debbie.

Tatyana’s story is one of courage and inspiration, fighting for the rights of those with disabilities. It’s a fight she will never give up on.

“I want to be a role model. Hopefully, I’m inspiring people with a disability or without a disability. For me, it keeps me going, knowing—hoping you’re changing someone’s life or many people’s lives,” said Tatyana.

Next up for Tatyana—she’s hoping to one day to win ESPN’s ESPY Award, given to the world’s top athletes. She hopes you’ll vote for her when the time comes.

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Linh Bui


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