Twenty years ago, Tatyana McFadden left an orphanage in St. Petersburg, Russia bound for adoption in Maryland. McFadden, then just four years old, was not expected to survive the spina bifida that forced her to walk on her hands for the first six years of her life.
But McFadden developed into one of the world's premier paralympic athletes, and is back in Russia, now competing for the United States. And along the way, she has reunited with her birth mother.
"I am very proud, it's amazing," Nina Polevikova said in Russian of her newfound daughter. "It's like a miracle."
McFadden is a spectacular athlete, having won 10 medals in the prior three Summer Paralympics in wheelchair racing. Last year, she won the "grand slam" of wheelchair marathoning, taking the Boston, Chicago, New York and London marathons. She used her winnings from those races to bring her birth family and the director of the St. Petersburg orphanage to Sochi for her competition.
McFadden finished fifth in her first event, a 12km cross country ski competition, but has three more left to go. She conceded that the differing conditions of the snow make it more challenging than wheelchair racing.
McFadden has in the past taken strong stances against Russian adoption policies, which now prohibit adoption of Russian children by American parents. But while in Sochi, she has opted for a message of inspiration and hope for others in circumstances similar to hers.
"I've always had a lot of courage, and a lot of strength," she told the AP. "And it made me the person I am today."
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