Wheelchair accident brings spotlight back

The Baltimore Sun

An incident involving Atholton wheelchair athlete Tatyana McFadden last weekend has again raised questions about her competing with able-bodied athletes in track meets.

McFadden was in a heat of the 200-meter race at the Howard County Track Classic on Saturday when she collided with Bishop McNamara's Monica Mason moments after the race ended. Mason had turned to her left to go to the infield and collided with McFadden in her lane.

"Tatyana was devastated about it," said her mother, Deborah McFadden. "The rules are you stay in your lanes until the [entire] race is finished. Had it been an able-bodied runner, they would have collided. The point is, regardless of what happened, everyone is devastated about it."

McFadden is scheduled to compete against able-bodied runners this week in the 100, 200 and 400 meters at the Howard County championships.

After the county meet, McFadden will be going to the regional and state meets. Steve Smith, the rules interpreter for the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, said she will race only against wheelchair athletes in those meets.

The state meet has three events solely for wheelchair athletes -- the 400, 800 and 1,600 meters. "It shouldn't be a problem at the state meet," Smith said.

Also at the state meet, the MPSSAA will offer "consolidated team scoring" to give the wheelchair athletes something more tangible to compete for. The scoring for them will be separate from the scoring for able-bodied athletes, and no team awards will be given out for the wheelchair competition.

The state legislature recently passed the Fitness and Athletic Equity Law for Students with Disabilities, which is to be signed a week from today. It states that students with disabilities have to be given an opportunity to be included in physical education and athletic programs.

MPSSAA executive director Ned Sparks hadn't heard about the incident over the weekend and declined to comment until he had more information.

"Mason was well past the finish line," said Brad Jaeger, owner of the Runningmaryland.com Web site, who was several feet from the collision.

"She was walking off the track. Tatyana tried to stop, and you hear the brakes squealing. She was making an effort to avoid it, but there was nothing she could do."

Keith Chapman, track and field coach at Bishop McNamara, a private school in Forestville, said Mason's left leg is bruised from knee to ankle. She also lost some skin on her calf and suffered a cut on her right hamstring. She is scheduled to see a doctor today and will likely miss practice all week, Chapman said.

Chapman wasn't upset with McFadden, but he questioned her placement in the heat.

He had a question that several people seemed to be asking when talking about the accident.

"Why was she in the fastest heat?" he said. "I think the meet director should have put her in Lane 8 [the far outside lane]. Why would you put her in Lane 1? I don't blame the girl. I'm not mad at her."

Lauren Young, McFadden's attorney and the director of litigation at the Maryland Disability Law Center, said McFadden did what she was supposed to do -- stay the course.

"I think that accidents can happen and ... it's important not to overreact here," Young said. "The issue of her staying in her lane is very important. It's not as if she careened out of control. That's not what happened here."

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