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Paralympics: Tatyana McFadden preparing for shot at history

The world as Tatyana McFadden knows it is constantly expanding. When you're an internationally recognized sprinter who has spent the greater part of the last decade working to become one of the nation's elite wheelchair athletes, new opportunities and life-changing experiences come with the territory.

But for all the people she's met, places she's been and sponsors she's attracted, McFadden hasn't let it change her focus. The Clarksville resident, who is currently preparing for her third trip to the Paralympics, is still a runner at heart.

"At the end of the day, I love to run. All of the other stuff is great, but that's not why I do it," said McFadden, who is scheduled to compete at this year's Paralympic games in London starting at the end of August.

Things certainly have blossomed for McFadden in the eight years since she first competed at the Paralympics at the age of 15 (Athens in 2004).

Perhaps the biggest boost has come in terms of sponsorship, headlined by her recent backing by BP. Chosen as one of BP's nine sponsored U.S. athletes for the upcoming games, she has been featured over the past few months in commercials, on posters and above gas pumps across the country.

"It's totally different from the first time I went … sponsors are really important," said McFadden, nicknamed "Lady Velocity" by BP. "I've always had a great support system, but knowing you have that extra backing really makes a huge difference."

Even with the higher profile, McFadden has done her best to stay grounded. The little things, like seeing herself on a Topps trading card for the first time, still mean a lot.

"I remember her showing me (the card) and saying, 'Isn't that nice, mom?'" said McFadden's mother, Deborah. "She's always had a great head on her shoulders and, even with people pushing her to get more sponsors and make a living on this now, I'm really proud of her for staying committed to her education."

McFadden, who just finished her junior year at the University of Illinois, does the majority of her training at school. She'll spend almost all of her time there in July, on the heels of winning three T54 events (100, 400 and 800) at the US Track and Field trials in Indianapolis last week. In addition to those three races, she's also qualified for both the 1,500 and marathon.

She will be the first Paralympian to attempt to medal in those five events. She will also be a part of the first group of sisters to compete together at the games, with her younger sister, Hannah, making the U.S team in the 100.

While this will be Hannah's first trip to the games, success for Tatyana as a sprinter is nothing new. In her previous two trips to the Paralympics, that's where she did the majority of her damage.

She has earned silver medals in the 100- (2004), 200- (2008), 400- (2008) and 800-meter (2008) races, while also taking home bronze in the 200 (2004) and 4x100 relay (2008).

"I enjoy all the races, but I'm a born sprinter and that's where my heart is at," she said.

Even without prior Paralympic success, there's also tremendous potential in the longer races. McFadden placed second in the 1,500 at the recent Paralympic trials and owns career victories in the Chicago marathon (2009 and 2011) and New York City marathon (2010).

Admittedly, though, the marathon, an event she doesn't do nearly as much training for, may be the biggest wild card of the bunch for McFadden.

"It's definitely different, especially mentally. You're pushing your body in a very different way," she said. "I'm excited to see how I do being my first time" in the marathon at the Paralympics.

These next couple months of preparation will be important, as McFadden looks to continue building toward what potentially could be her biggest games yet. That doesn't mean, however, that the 23-year-old won't be taking a few breaks.

On July 11, McFadden will attend the ESPY awards after being one of five athletes nominated for the Best Female Athlete with a Disability award. It's the second straight year she's been nominated. Then in August, she'll return home for a couple weeks to visit family and friends.

"That time for me is very important, getting a chance to see everyone and relax," she said. "When you get to the games, there's very little time for all that. It's go, go, go from the moment you get there."

As for her goals once she finally gets to London, McFadden is keeping it simple.

"I'm just taking it one race at a time and focusing on what I have in front of me," she said. "I have enough faith in my training and myself that everything else will work itself out."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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