Tatyana McFadden on her greatest comeback

Wheelchair racing superstar has New York title defence in her sights to end emotional 2017 01 Nov 2017
a female Para wheelchair racer celebrates with an American flag
Tatyana McFadden
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“It was emotional, I was so proud of myself. When I finished the race I just turned to my Mum and said, ‘I did it, I came back.’ She was so proud of me, and my family was so proud of me, because it was so tough."

There was a time this year when Tatyana McFadden feared her athletics career might be over – but there’s no doubt the US star is back with a vengeance as she aims for a remarkable sixth win in the New York Marathon on Sunday (5th November).

Early in the 2017 season, McFadden suffered severe blood clots in her legs that led to repeated hospital visits, surgeries and time away from training and racing.

“I always had that worry in the back of my mind – was it over? Could I come back this year? How much would I have to miss? There were a lot of questions because it was so unpredictable,” explained the seven-time Paralympic champion, who now undergoes rehabilitation four times a day.

“You do have to treat it fast otherwise it could be very serious – it can make you not come back to the sport, or depending where the clots are, they can go to your heart and kill you. I’m just so happy and fortunate that everything is doing alright.

“I was worried what would happen if (the clots) came back, or if I had to minimise all my travelling, would I be able to do all those marathons and keep a hectic schedule – that was always at the back of my mind.”

McFadden lined up at the World Para Athletics Championships in London, Great Britain, in July unsure how events would unfold – was she fit enough to add to her formidable medal collection, which included ten gold medals from the 2011 and 2013 World Championships?

The answer was a resounding ‘yes’ as the 28-year-old struck gold in all four of the events she took part in – the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m T54. It was a phenomenal achievement, all the more impressive given what the American had been through in the weeks and months leading up to the Championships.

“I knew it was going to be really hard and I kind of didn’t know what to expect. I just had goals in mind to try and be somewhere in the top three,” admitted McFadden.

“I just took it race by race, seeing what happened and what my body would allow me to do. I knew that was going to be the hardest part – to come back.”

As for marathon racing, ill-health meant McFadden missed racing in Tokyo and London this year – a time she describes as ‘hard and emotional’, having finished 2016 on a high with a win in New York – her 16th major marathon win in a row. Then in September, flight cancellations meant she was unable to travel to Berlin, Germany, to race there.

Meanwhile, McFadden’s key rivals, Switzerland’s Manuela Schar and fellow American Amanda McGrory were excelling; Schar set new course records in Boston and London in April.

With an Abbott World Marathon Majors title to defend, McFadden finally made it back to the roads in Chicago in October – and won.

“It was emotional, I was so proud of myself,” admitted McFadden. “When I finished the race I just turned to my Mum and said, ‘I did it, I came back.’

“She was so proud of me, and my family was so proud of me, because it was so tough – especially as my family had watched everything happen during the hospital time. It was emotional after all we’d been through together.”

A win in New York would be the perfect end to the year for McFadden, but she’s under no illusion, despite her previous successes in the Big Apple, that it will be easy.

“It’ll be a tough one for sure. Manuela’s looking really strong and of course Amanda is too, she’s been phenomenal. But I’m really looking forward to it, it’s really exciting to be able to race again,” said McFadden, who finished nearly two minutes clear of her rivals in last year’s race.

“I love New York, it’s just a great marathon with a great crowd. It would really be something special, especially coming back. The best part of the marathon is that excitement and having your competitors - there’s no doubt about it they will be right there.”