Tatyana McFadden listed as Real Simple’s 10 GameChangers

Real Simple

Tatyana McFadden noticed that the stands seemed incredibly empty when she won the bronze and silver medals in track and field during the 2004 Paralympic Games. She was just 15 years old and wondered whether the achievement mattered if no one wanted to watch her race. “I think the biggest problem was that the public didn’t understand how cool wheelchair racing is,” says Tatyana, now a 17-time Paralympic medalist and widely considered one of the fastest women in the world.

She’s worked to change the public’s perception by pushing to get wheelchair racing in the limelight—and the equal treatment it deserves. In 2005, she filed a lawsuit against the Howard County Public School System in Maryland because she wasn’t allowed to race alongside runners at her high school track events. She won the case and gained that right, ensuring her younger sister Hannah, who was also a wheelchair racer, wouldn’t feel like an outsider at school.

In 2009, Tatyana was again disheartened by what she felt was unequal treatment between wheelchair racers and runners at events she competed in—the two types of athletes got separate press conferences, and the media only really showed up for the runners. Whenever Tatyana had the opportunity to meet with race organizers, she’d explain how important it is for all athletes to share the spotlight equally. In 2016, the New York City Marathon began celebrating wheelchair racers and runners at the same press conference. “I love seeing the change, and it makes me excited to stay in the game longer,” she says. —M.M.

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