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Altholton Alum wins fourth Boston Marathon title

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Posted at 9:08 PM, Apr 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-18 21:08:22-04

For the fourth year in a row, Tatyana McFadden of Clarksville won the women's wheelchair race at the Boston Marathon.

She's the first-person to have won four major marathons in three years and with this latest win she's on track for another grand slam title.

McFadden has made headlines for her top finishes in races around the world, but she's also known locally for an achievement that doesn't involve a trophy.

Before Tatyana McFadden was winning titles, she was racing on the track at Atholton High School. It was while she was there that she was told she couldn't race side-by-side with other athletes. She pushed back and helped to establish a state law that's enabled thousands of students with disabilities to compete with able-bodied athletes.

Beth DeFrances was one of McFadden’s track coaches while she attended Althoton High School.

“Tatyana was an extremely great athlete, very determined, dedicated, a real motivator. She was always here for practices and always working with the other athletes and encouraging them. She was a phenomenal role model for all the track athletes,” said DeFrances, who is now the athletic director for the high school.

However, McFadden was prohibited from competing with able-bodied athletes due to concerns that someone could be injured.

“[Other coaches] were afraid that if she went out of control for any reason or that the wheel might've fell off that it would injure or put someone else in danger and they didn't want to have that liability on their hands with their athletes,” said Chuck Fales, the former Atholton High School athletic director.

McFadden would still compete, but she had to do it on her own.

“Tatyana would be in a different event by herself and so that was discouraging for her because she wanted to be able to participate and compete against the other people,” DeFrances said.

McFadden was born with spina bifida, spent the first six years of her life in a Russian orphanage and having already defied the odds, she wasn't going to let this obstacle get in the way of her aspirations. She filed a lawsuit against the school system and won the right to compete. Her actions led to the eventual passage of a new state law that would ensure that students with disabilities have the equal opportunity, to the fullest extent possible, to participate in mainstream physical education programs.

“Through her efforts and initiative, the [Fitness and Athletic Equity Law for Students with Disabilities] was passed in 2009 and as a result now thousands of athletes participate, individuals with physical disabilities and individuals like special mixed athletes who have intellectual disabilities, on teams with individuals who don't have disabilities. So, it's had a profound impact in the state,” said Jim Schmutz, president and CEO for Special Olympics Maryland.

As the “fastest woman on three wheels” McFadden is working towards more personal achievements, but it's her contribution at home that's giving others an equal chance to follow in her trail.

“Her spirit, her legacy is embodied on tracks and fields and gyms across the state in all school districts and really it was the first of any law in the country that was passed so it's groundbreaking. She's a definite pioneer when it comes to that,” said Schmutz.

McFadden is also preparing to compete in the 2016 Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro this September.

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