'A way of saying thank you'

Though McFadden is focused on Sochi as an athletic competition, there's little question the games will carry an extra layer of emotion because of her Russian heritage.

After she won the London Marathon in 2011, she asked Deborah if they could visit St. Petersburg before returning to the U.S.

She returned to Orphanage 13, taking in the modest space that had seemed so huge to her when she was a tiny kid, navigating the halls on her hands.

After touring the orphanage, Tatyana met her birth mother.

Some articles describe McFadden as having been "abandoned" in the orphanage, but she doesn't regard the experience that way. Her birth mother, Nina Polivikova, was young and had no means to care for a baby with spina bifida.

"Her mother was told that her child would die, that there was no hope for her," Deborah says.

"My birth mom, she had to do the hardest part," Tatyana adds. "Just to give me life and then put me in the orphanage, because I was extremely sick."

She wanted their reunion to be devoid of guilt.

"Going back and showing her the person I've become was almost a way of saying thank you to her," she says. "I wanted her to know, 'It's not your fault. You did what you could. You did the best that you could at that time and moment.'"

She has remained in touch with Polivikova since their meeting and looks forward to racing in front of her and various cousins in Sochi.

"That's the first time they get to physically see me compete," McFadden says. "For me, that's going to be fulfilling. I'm sure I'll never forget being able to see them at the starting line or being there when I cross."

Just don't expect McFadden to slow down when the Sochi Games conclude. She's scheduled to race on the last day of competition, fly back to the U.S. the next day and hop an immediate flight to Illinois so she can resume marathon training. On April 13, she'll line up to defend her title in the London Marathon.

"I asked her coach, 'Is that humanly possible?'" her mother says.

"He said, 'No, but for Tatyana … maybe.'"

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Tatyana McFadden

Born April 21, 1989 in St. Petersburg, Russia

Adopted by Deborah McFadden of Clarksville at age 6

Wins first Paralympic medals in 2004 at age 15

Engages in landmark court battle for disabled athletes while at Atholton High

Wins three gold medals at 2012 London Paralympics

In 2013, becomes first person to win Boston, London, Chicago, New York marathons in same calendar year

Qualifies for first winter Paralympics in Jan. 2014

In Sochi, plans to compete in 1k, 5k and 12.5k cross-country sit skiing, possibly biathlon

Sochi Paralympics run from March 7-March 16, with 52 hours of coverage on NBC and NBC Sports Network