Clarksville resident Tatyana McFadden carried memories of last year's Boston Marathon bombings, and the stories of those affected by it, with her en route to a second straight women's wheelchair marathon victory Monday in Boston.
"Coming back this year, especially after last year, it was so special," McFadden said Monday evening. "I really just wanted to run for the community, and to run as fast as I could and as hard as I could. It was so special, and the competition was so hard."
McFadden, who won the race on her 25th birthday, defended her title with a time of 1 hour, 35 minutes, six seconds, improving on last year's Boston Marathon-winning time of 1:45:25 by nearly 10 minutes. She finished 2:18 ahead of this year's runner-up, Wakako Tsuchida of Japan.
Upon her return to Boston this month, McFadden met several families affected by last year's bombings.
Days before the race, she met the family of Martin Richard, who was 8 years old last spring when he was killed in the attack. The Richard family got in touch with McFadden's mother, and McFadden talked to the family about living with a disability. She also ran as part of team MR8, with Martin's name and age on her jersey during Monday's winning run.
At a mall in Boston, she ran into Carlos Arredondo, a man who was hailed as a hero last year for his efforts to help victims at the scene. They spoke briefly, and after learning more of his story, McFadden decided to honor Arredondo as well. After she crossed the finish line, McFadden gave him the gold olive wreath bestowed on the winners.
"I felt a special connection," McFadden said. "He's done so much, and has gone through so much. It was important to me."
The Atholton graduate, who was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and adopted when she was 6, is paralyzed from the waist down because of spina bifida, a birth condition in which the spinal cord does not completely develop.
With the win Monday, McFadden is halfway to a second straight grand slam of the four major marathons — London, Boston, Chicago, and New York. Last weekend, McFadden set a course record of 1:45:12 in her defense of the London Marathon.
But in between her first grand slam and the front half of a potential second grand slam, McFadden took up cross-country skiing for the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia. She earned a silver medal in the 1-kilometer cross-country sitting-ski sprint, and had just one day of rest after returning to the United States to resume marathon training.
"It was extremely difficult because I was out of the chair since November," she said, noting the stress her chair put on her back. "One week, I did 200 miles of training to get ready for London and Boston. My arms weren't used to climbing. They weren't used to that motion. It was quite a difficult transition."
With London and Boston out of the way and the Chicago Marathon not until October, McFadden plans to return to Illinois, where she went to school, for a brief spell of relaxation before she resumes her training again.
She said preparations already began within the racing community for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where McFadden plans to compete for the fourth time. She brought home a silver and bronze medal from the 2004 games in Athens, four silvers and a bronze from Beijing in 2008, and four golds and a bronze in London in 2012.
Competition will be stiff in Rio de Janeiro, which is why she said the Boston Marathon field was more competitive than last year.
"It was the toughest field that came out this year," McFadden said. "It's the same group that's going to be getting ready for Rio, the Rio marathons and the Rio track events. … That is the ultimate goal. I have my eyes on Rio, and everything I do — all my trainings and all my competitions — is to get ready for Rio."