Paralympic medalist Tatyana McFadden has twice swept the Grand Slam of wheelchair marathon racing, winning titles in Boston, London, Chicago and New York in a single season.
She hopes to add to her haul of 11 Paralympic medals when she competes next summer in Rio de Janeiro.
McFadden is currently training for next month’s Chicago Marathon. On Wednesday she’ll be announced as one of BP’s seven athlete ambassadors — five Paralympians and two Olympians — for the lead-up to next summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games. Other athletes include Olympians Sanya Richards-Ross and Nathan Adrian and Paralympians Brad Snyder, Melissa Stockwell, Lex Gillette and Matt Stutzman.
It’s the first time a U.S. Olympic sponsor has chosen to sign on more Paralympic athletes than Olympians.
George Bauernfeind, who leads BP’s Olympic and Paralympic programs, says all of the athletes share BP’s core values that include courage, respect and excellence.
And he sees the Paralympic movement continuing to grow in the U.S. “What we see are a lot more of the Paralympic programming, a lot more of the awareness,” he said. “As more people touch it, experience it and get involved in it, it is quite differentiating and endearing to whoever that person may be.”
The commitment from BP makes all the difference to athletes like McFadden, who heavily rely on sponsorship dollars to train full-time.
“If you want to be on top, if you want to be the best of the best you have to have help,” she said.
McFadden estimates each of her racing wheelchairs costs $5,000 and tires are about $300 apiece. One week she went through six tires, and if you add up the cost of traveling, training and coaching, the expenses can be overwhelming.
She is in graduate school at the University of Illinois studying to be a child life specialist to help children receiving critical care. As a child, McFadden, who was born with spina bifida, had someone who provided this service to her and she’s been inspired to give back.
Snyder, who won three Paralympic gold medals in swimming in 2012, also uses his experiences to give back to his community as a motivational speaker.
One year before competing in London, Snyder lost his eyesight when he suffered injuries in an explosion while serving in the Navy in Afghanistan.
“It’s been really intensely rewarding to be able to speak with the audiences that I do, to inspire children, to inspire those with disabilities to aspire to do more than they thought they were capable of doing,” Snyder said.
With a greater commitment from NBC to air 66 hours of coverage of the 2016 Paralympics and BP’s continuing support, Snyder expects the U.S. Paraympic team will gain more attention from the general public.
“It gives us a lot of credence as far as that we are elite athletes,” Snyder said of BP’s commitment to Paralympians, “but we also have a major component that’s really exciting, and that’s the inspirational component. … It’s a different story in the Paralympic world that I think resonates … where you see athletes overcoming something major, whether it’s a limb loss due to cancer or in my case a visual impairment caused by an IED in Afghanistan.
“We appreciate it because it’s giving us an opportunity to share our stories on a greater platform.”