Mount Airy native Daniel Romanchuk earned the first gold medal of his Paralympic career on Sunday as he won the men’s T54 400-meter wheelchair race at the Tokyo Paralympics.
Romanchuk finished in 45.72 seconds, just beating Athiwat Paeng-Nuea of Thailand, who finished second in 45.73 seconds.
“This class [T54] is so competitive. It could be anyone’s race on any given day,” Romanchuk, was born with spina bifida, said after the race. “It went very well today. I got off the start line pretty fast and had a good acceleration and just tried to hold the tough speed.”
Romanchuk narrowly missed the podium at Saturday’s 5,000-meter race, placing fourth by just 0.14 seconds.
“One thing I have come back to is just taking things one day at a time. I try not to look at the bigger picture too much. I just try and see what today has,” he said.
Romanchuk is also scheduled to compete in the T54 100-meter dash, the 800-meter race, 1500-meter race, and the men’s marathon.
Coan swims to gold
Loyola Maryland graduate McKenzie Coan won a gold medal in the women’s 400-meter freestyle S7 at the Tokyo Paralympics with a final time of 5:05.84.
This is her second consecutive gold in the event, having previously won in the 2016 Rio Games.
“To be able to come back here and defend it, it’s been a really long five years. There’s been a lot of hard things these five years,” the Georgia native after the race. “To be able to come here, especially after the last year, what the world has gone through, it’s just nice to come here and do something that makes you smile and makes you happy, so I think it means even more.”
It’s the fourth Paralympic gold medal for Coan, who was diagnosed with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bone disease) which has caused her to break nearly 100 bones despite being just 25 years old. She competes as a swimmer in the S7, SB6 and SM7 classifications, which includes amputees, as well as athletes with cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries and other impairments.
“I’ve had a lot of health problems in the last five years. Some more serious fractures with my disease,” said Coan, who trains in Baltimore and works in the office of student development at Loyola Maryland. “Actually 2017 I had a particular individual told me that I wasn’t going to live much longer. For someone who’s overcome obstacles her entire life, this person didn’t even know me. It was a specialist that I went to, they didn’t even know me.
“They looked up a textbook definition of my disorder and looked at X-rays and basically told me based off of that that I was not going to be here much longer. So to be able to come here and prove them long, it just means a lot.”
Coan, who’s writing a book about her life called “Breaking Free,” is also scheduled to compete in the 100-meter freestyle, the 50 freestyle and the 50 butterfly.
“When I was younger I had just got into para-swimming, I was about eight or nine years old, and my mom and I would joke all the time we should write a book about this because no one would believe the things that we go through,” she said. “Last year I was studying for the L-Sat [law school admission test] to get into law school so I was like, ‘why not throw in writing a book on top of that?’”
McFadden adds 19th medal
Clarksville native and Atholton High graduate Tatyana McFadden earned the silver medal in the T54 women’s 800-meter wheelchair race on Sunday at the Tokyo Paralympics.
McFadden finished in 1:43.16, claiming the 19th medal of her Paralympic career. Manuela Schaer of Switzerland, a longtime rival, set a Paralympic record by finishing first in 1:42.81. U.S. teammate Susannah Scaroni finished third in 1:44.43.
“Making 19 is absolutely incredible,” said McFadden, who suffers from spina bifida. “I’m just so honored. It’s been a really tough journey for me to be here. To be right up there with Manuela, I’ve been racing against her since I was 15 and she’s always been a force to be reckoned with. We’ve always been going back and forth.”
McFadden, who won four gold medals at the last summer games in Rio in 2016, will also compete in the T54 400-meter race, 1,500-meter race and the women’s marathon. She needs two more medals to tie Canadian Chantal Petitclerc for the honor of the most decorated Paralympic track and field athlete of all-time.
“Today was a really tough start, and that makes a difference with her, that automatically puts you into second place, she’s that strong. But I’m very pleased with my performance. I’m just really happy that I was up there and was able to recover my start. To have a podium and to go two and three [with Susannah], that’s really big for Team USA.”
McFadden and Scaroni combined for their second double podium in Tokyo, just over 24 hours after medaling in the women’s 5,000-meter T54.