A pair of Maryland wheelchair athletes — Tatyana McFadden and Daniel Romanchuk — took the top spots in the men’s and women’s races at the Chicago Marathon on Sunday.
A day later and nearly a thousand miles away, both took second place at the Boston Marathon, behind Swiss athletes Marcel Hug and Manuela Schar.
In roughly the past two weeks, the duo have competed in four wheelchair marathons, a dizzying clip brought on by scheduling changes because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They each took second place at the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 26, then McFadden took third and Romanchuk took second at the London Marathon on Oct. 3.
After Sunday’s wins in the Windy City, McFadden earned her second-place finish Monday with a time of 1 hour, 50 minutes, 20 seconds, and Romanchuk did so with a time of 1:25:46.
Competing on back-to-back days was grueling, McFadden said in an interview. She left Chicago just hours after her win and arrived in Boston around 5 p.m. By the time she’d taken a COVID-test and completed some recovery training, it was almost 9 p.m. Race day promised another 4:30 a.m. wake-up.
“I knew the race was going to be quite challenging, and I was sore, so in the warm-ups I tried to loosen up as much as possible,” she said. “I think I started to feel the fatigue at mile 20, just after Heartbreak [Hill], and I thought: ‘OK, at this point, I just want to see the finish line.’”
Despite the schedule’s toll, McFadden said she’d likely do it all again, given the chance. She is the only elite female athlete planning to compete in all five major marathons this year. Only New York’s is left.
“Knowing myself, I probably can’t let go of an opportunity like that, because I love racing,” she said.
McFadden, 32, has spina bifada, a defect impacting the spine that left her without the use of her legs. Born in Russia, where she grew up in an orphanage, she was adopted and moved to the United States at age 6. A 2008 graduate of Atholton High School, the Clarksville resident was the youngest person to compete for USA Track and Field at the Athens Games in 2004. She returned home with a silver and a bronze medal.
Since then, she’s racked up a total of 20 Paralympic medals and dozens of major marathon wins. On four occasions she won the Boston, Chicago, New York City and London marathons in the same year, according to her website.
Romanchuk, who grew up in Mount Airy, was also born with spina bifada. The 23-year-old left the Tokyo Paralympics earlier this year with two medals — a gold and a bronze. Romanchuk, who already has seven major marathon wins, is also the two-time defending champion of the New York City Marathon’s wheelchair race. That marathon is scheduled for Nov. 7.
It’s been a whirlwind season, Romanchuk said in an interview. He and his mother have practically been operating on European time since the marathons in Berlin and London.
“It’s been nice to be able to wake up at 3 or so in the morning for the race morning and not feel like it’s 3 a.m.,” he said.
Despite the challenges of the race schedule, Romanchuk said he’s welcomed the return of in-person competition. During the pandemic, many major marathons were held virtually.
“Getting on start lines with athletes like Ernst [van Dyk] and Marcel [Hug] and really a number of other athletes. There’s just so much experience. I always learn something,” he said.
Before the New York City Marathon next month, Romanchuk is planning for a trip back to his family’s home in Mount Airy, he said. It will offer him a chance to practice riding on hilly terrain in preparation for New York’s course. His home in Champaign, Illinois is comparatively very flat, he said.
“[I’m] looking forward to getting back out there and getting onto the hills and familiar roads,” he said.
McFadden said she’ll be returning to the Clarksville area in the coming weeks to do the same.
“Even just in my neighborhood, we’ve got a really big climb, so I’ll be doing that in Maryland as well,” she said. “Pretty luck for the extreme hill-age really, really close by.”