This 17-time Paralympic medalist is beyond inspiring

Women’s Health Magazine

One quick look is all it takes to know with 100 percent certainty that Tatyana McFadden is really, really strong. Her arms are rippling with muscles—muscles that have not only propelled her to 17 Paralympics medals and 20 World Championships medals, but multiple first-place finishes in the Chicago, London, Boston, and New York marathons.

For the earliest years of McFadden’s life, those powerful arms—and her hands—were the only way she could walk.

She was born in St. Petersburg, Russia with spina bifida, a common congenital disability that leads to the spinal column not developing correctly in utero. In some cases, as with McFadden, it results in partial paralysis.

“Usually, babies with spina bifida get surgery immediately after birth to ensure the spinal cord and nerves are enclosed and protected, but for me, that wasn’t the case,”McFadden tells Women’s Health. “I had surgery at 21 days old. It was a miracle that I survived.”

‘Lucky number 13‘

With her birth mother unable to care for her, McFadden was placed in an orphanage that had no name and was only identified by a number: 13. “Lucky number 13,” says McFadden, who lived there until she was six years old.

“I didn’t have any medical treatment, no extra surgery, no schooling, no wheelchair—nothing,” she says. That may sound grim, but to McFadden, her experience influenced the woman she is today: an athlete with grit and determination, who is defined by her power and record-breaking accomplishments.

“Because of not having a wheelchair, I figured out how to get around just like the other kids,” McFadden says. She walked on her hands, using them to propel her body forward, and played without regard for her lower-body paralysis. “That shaped me today [into] someone who doesn’t see myself as different from anyone else.”

Her placement at orphanage number 13 also led to an encounter that would change her life.

‘It was fate at that moment‘

Everything changed in 1994 when McFadden’s soon-to-be adoptive mother—Deborah McFadden, who was working as commissioner of disabilities for the U.S. Department of Health—walked into her orphanage.

“I told everyone she was going to be my mom—it was just fate at that moment,” says McFadden about the moment she first saw Deborah.

Her life transformed once she left Russia and moved to Maryland to live with her new family. For the first time, McFadden went to school. She also received surgeries—more than a dozen—to straighten out her legs, which had atrophied behind her back. These surgeries allowed her to sit in a wheelchair.

‘Sports are the best way to heal‘

In her early years in America, McFadden was sick and anemic. Her parents’ mentality: Physical activity is the best way to heal. They encouraged her to play sports, and she took to them enthusiastically.

“I did everything—skiing, ice hockey, wheelchair basketball, table tennis, archery—and finally fell in love with wheelchair racing,” McFadden says.

Her parents went with her every weekend to Baltimore for a local sports program, sitting for four hours every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday while McFadden played sports.

The effects of this athletic involvement were transformative, on both her health and independence. Sports and workouts made her strong. After several months, McFadden could push her wheelchair around for a full day at school, without the help of an aide.

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David Boudia Wins 3-meter National Title, Makes World Championship Team

Team USA

After becoming one of the most decorated divers in U.S. history on the 10-meter platform, three-time Olympian and four-time Olympic medalist David Boudia’s transition to the 3-meter springboard is all but complete.

Boudia earned his 21st national title – his first on springboard since 2013 – at the USA Diving Senior National Championships, part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity, on Saturday in Indianapolis.

Boudia took time off following the Olympic Games Rio 2016 before announcing his return to the sport in September 2017. A concussion five months later would change his plans for a Tokyo 2020 bid from the platform to the springboard.

The 30-year-old father of three has since earned silver at the FINA Gold Coast Grand Prix last November, followed by a win at the Winter Trials and now a national title.

Boudia and Michael Hixon were the only Olympians in the field, and each showed his experience. Boudia won the national title with a total score of 474.35, followed by Hixon (451.00) and Jordan Windle (425.30).

Hixon won the top spot in the race for a world championship spot, cumulatively scoring 1,381.50 point over the three rounds of competition contested Thursday and Saturday, while Boudia checked in with a total of 1,358.05. Both men will compete for Team USA at the FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, in July.

After the first three dives in the final, the top three competitors were separated by less than 10 points; Hixon with 237.10, his synchro partner Andrew Capobianco with 235.40 and Boudia with 229.70.

Capobianco missed his fourth dive, a reverse 3 ½, earning just 31.50, virtually dropping him out of the race. Boudia, meanwhile, vaulted ahead of the field by 12 points (301.10) followed by Hixon (289.60).

Consistency over his final two dives kept Boudia in the driver’s seat. He closed out his title run with his best score of the day, an 89.25 on a reverse 3 ½, followed by an 84.00 on a reverse 1 ½, 3 ½ twist in his finale.

“Going into this event today, I don’t think I have been that nervous since 2005,” Boudia said. “I think because it is a new event on 3-meter, there are a lot more variables when it comes to diving – with trying to ride the board and have a rhythm. I am comfortable on 10-meter. I am not quite as comfortable on 3-meter yet, but this is a good stepping-stone to get into world championships and then ultimately toward Tokyo next year.”

Boudia noted that mentality was key in his success despite the ups and downs of other competitors.

“Nerves are good, you just have to learn how to put those butterflies in formation,” he said. “I think my rock has been my mental game and that is why I have been successful in this sport. It is just a matter of turning on that focus and getting into that zone and I guess that is what happened today. Having to step up for the occasion is what I love to do.”

Despite winning his second national title in 3-meter and first in six years, Boudia, who captured Olympic gold on the platform in 2012 and bronze in 2016, said he is not satisfied. 

“The caliber of diving here is a lot different than what the top four or five in the world are doing right now, so Hix and I are going to have a lot of training to do if we want to be even close to cracking that top five, but what we both have is experience,” Boudia said. “We both have been to the Olympics and been on the podium and we know what that feels like. And we know how to battle the pressure that comes with it. Ultimately, the goal of world championships is to bring back [Olympic] spots for the United States and I think Hixon and I are both in the position to do that. We just need to execute our plan.”

Tatyana McFadden featured in new Olay campaign


Tatyana, alongside influencers and inspirational women such as Sarah Hyland, Andrea Pion, Angelique Miles, Shahd and Noelle Downing. The women have all participated in the two-week-long ‘Olay Body Wash Challenge’, using its ‘Ribbons’ body wash, and will also feature in a waterproof photography bath book to be published by the company.

Each of the women has chosen a different area of their body to be photographed: for McFadden, it was her arms.