‘There is a spe­cial bond’

Tatyana, Han­nah McFad­den rely on their sis­terly ties as they chase great­ness in Rio

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Mike Klinga­man

They are sis­ters in sur­name, in spirit and in sport. And at the 2016 Sum­mer Par­a­lympic Games in Rio de Janiero, which be­gan Wed­nes­day, Tatyana and Han­nah McFad­den of Clarksville hope to be side by side on the medals podium. Han­nah, who has a pros­thetic left leg, would stand; Tatyana, who is par­a­lyzed from the waist down, would sit — one hand on her heart, the other grasp­ing that of her sis­ter dur­ing the play­ing of the na­tional an­them.

“That would be so cool,” Tatyana McFad­den said. She has been there be­fore, hav­ing won three golds and a bronze in track and field in the 2012 Games and 11 medals in two Par­a­lympics. She is ranked No. 1 in the world in six events, from 100 me­ters to the marathon, and won the ESPY Award for Best Fe­male Ath­lete with a Dis­abil­ity in July.

At 27, Tatyana is seven years older than Han­nah, who, like her sis­ter, was adopted early on from an Eastern Euro­pean or­phan­age. Both had faced grim fu­tures. Born with spina bi­fida, Rus­sian-born U.S. swim­mer Jes­sica Long takes sil­ver in the 400 free at Rio SPORTS PG 5 Han­nah, left, and Tatyana McFad­den both as­pire to the medals podium in the Par­a­lympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Tatyana seeks to add to her medal count of 11, in­clud­ing three gold. Han­nah fin­ished eighth in the 100 me­ters in the Lon­don games in 2012.

Tatyana, 6, wasn’t ex­pected to live long. Han­nah, from Al­ba­nia, was born with a bone de­for­mity in her left leg, which had to be am­pu­tated.

Had 3-year-old Han­nah not been adopted, “she would have been out beg­ging in the streets,” said her mother, Deb­o­rah McFad­den. In­stead, Han­nah has, like her sis­ter, blos­somed into a world-class ath­lete while muscling the sleek yel­low rac­ing chair she calls “The Stal­lion.” She’ll com­pete in three Par­a­lympic events af­ter plac­ing eighth at 100 me­ters in the Lon­don games. Tatyana seeks an un­prece­dented seven golds, in­clud­ing both the 100- and 400-me­ter races and the 4-by-400 re­lay with her sis­ter.

Both qual­i­fied in the 100-me­ter pre­lim­i­nar­ies Thurs­day, with the fi­nal sched­uled for to­day. Tatyana fin­ished in sec­ond place, be­hind Liu Wen­jun of China, with a time of 16.52. Han­nah was third with a time of 16.55 sec­onds.

Tatyana has a covey of spon­sors, from BMW to BP to Coke. Nike and Sam­sung have signed on with both sis­ters.

“They are liv­ing the dream — and chang­ing the per­cep­tion of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties,” Deb­o­rah McFad­den said of her daugh­ters. “They are proof to par­ents that ‘My kid doesn’t have to grow up to work in a shel­tered work­shop.’ ”

Pop­eye-sized bi­ceps and a fierce com­pet­i­tive per­sona have earned Tatyana the nick­name “The Beast.” But she soft­ens, re­call­ing early times with her sis­ter and the bonds they formed grow­ing up.

Tatyana was10 the day Han­nah ar­rived at Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Washington, a wisp of a girl clutch­ing an Amer­i­can Girl doll in one hand and a bal­loon in the other.

“I put her on my lap and tried to talk to her,” Tatyana said. “She was very shy, so I made all these silly ges­tures.”

The child was called Vjollca, but that tongue-twist­ing name had to go. Tatyana named her Han­nah “be­cause it was in the Bi­ble.”

Han­nah’s ear­li­est mem­o­ries are of Tatyana — she called her “Tah-tee” — dress­ing her up and putting bows in her hair. Tatyana read her sto­ries and taught her English and even how to swim.

“She had a pink tutu that she wore all the time, and a wand that she waved like a fairy princess,” Tatyana said. But, like her sis­ter, Han­nah dis­played an ath­letic bent.

Early on, the girls slept in the same room, in bunk beds, with Tatyana in the top — never mind her crip­pled legs.

“She had this whole gym­nas­tics rou­tine down pat and did flips, with her arms, to get to the top bunk,” Han­nah said. “She didn’t need any help.”

As kids, they had pil­low fights and wrestling matches. Still do, in the house Tatyana McFad­den races in Thurs­day’s 100-me­ter pre­lim­i­nar­ies. She fin­ished in sec­ond place be­hind Chi­nese ath­lete Liu Wen­jun with a time of 16.52 sec­onds, qual­i­fy­ing for to­day’s fi­nal. Han­nah McFad­den also qual­i­fied, with a third-place fin­ish in 16.55 sec­onds. they share in Cham­paign, Ill., where Tatyana works to­ward a post­grad­u­ate de­gree at the Univer­sity of Illinois and where Han­nah is a ris­ing ju­nior. Tatyana plans to be a child life spe­cial­ist, work­ing with crit­i­cally ill chil­dren; Han­nah wants to work over­seas with refugees.

At prac­tice, they are in­sep­a­ra­ble, egging each other on while whizzing around the track in their rac­ing chairs for four hours a day.

Both have pony­tails. “We call it fast hair,” Han­nah said. Nei­ther is ro­man­ti­cally in­volved, though Tatyana gets mar­riage pro­pos­als rou­tinely on Face­book.

From time to time, Han­nah plays the tease, imitating her sis­ter, who’ll roll her eyes in feigned dis­may.

“I tell her not to be so se­ri­ous,” Han­nah said. “I’m re­ally good at mock­ing Tatyana. When she stresses out, I’ll im­per­son­ate her and ex­ag­ger­ate it [in a grav­elly voice], like, ‘I HAVE A MARATHON THIS WEEK­END!’ She laughs, so I think it helps.”

Han­nah has al­ways been the jokester. In third grade, for Hal­loween, she dressed as a pi­rate, re­plac­ing her pros­thetic with a rub­ber-tipped peg leg and plac­ing a stuffed par­rot on her shoul­der.

Aside from an in-house el­e­va­tor, they’ve not been treated dif­fer­ently from any­one else.

“Go­ing through air­ports, I’ll ap­proach “They are liv­ing the dream — and chang­ing the per­cep­tion of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties,” says Deb­o­rah McFad­den, mother of Par­a­lympians Tatyana and Han­nah McFad­den. the bag­gage carousel and ask Tatyana, ‘Get my suit­case, will you?’ ” Deb­o­rah McFad­den said. “Peo­ple get this hor­ri­fied look, like, she’s ask­ing a girl in a wheel­chair to get her bag? But Tatyana picks it up like noth­ing.”

When board­ing planes, Han­nah re­moves her leg non­cha­lantly and stuffs it in the over­head bin.

“You can imag­ine other [pas­sen­gers’] sur­prise when they open the bin,” her mother said.

2016 Par­a­lympics

When: Run­ning through Sept. 18 Where: Rio de Janeiro, at many of the sites where the Sum­mer Olympics were held Com­pe­ti­tion: Ath­letes, in­clud­ing 267 from the United States, will com­pete in 23 sports Ath­letes with ties to Mary­land: Gail Gaeng of Fred­er­ick (wheel­chair bas­ket­ball), Trevon Jenifer of Hunt­ing­town (wheel­chair bas­ket­ball), Jes­sica Long of Bal­ti­more (swim­ming), Han­nah and Tatyana McFad­den of Clarksville (track and field), Re­becca Meyers of Bal­ti­more (swim­ming), Markeith Price of Bal­ti­more (track and field), Daniel Ro­manchuk of Mount Airy (track and field) and Brad Sny­der of Bal­ti­more (swim­ming). An­napo­lis res­i­dent Dee Smith of San Francisco (sail­ing) and Bal­ti­more res­i­dents McKen­zie Coan (swim­ming), El­iz­a­beth Smith (swim­ming) and Cort­ney Jor­dan (swim­ming) were also named to the team.

Two years ago, while in Bos­ton to speak at a Wounded War­rior con­fer­ence, Han­nah spot­ted two dis­abled vet­er­ans walk­ing gin­gerly on their new pros­thet­ics to­ward a ho­tel swim­ming pool. She breezed past them, stopped, re­moved her leg, tossed it aside and jumped in the water. The ef­fect was as ex­pected.

“Those two guys looked at Han­nah, and then at each other, like, ‘OK, let’s go,’ ” Deb­o­rah McFad­den said. Off came their legs and into the pool they went.

As a child, like her sis­ter, Han­nah com­peted for the Ben­nett Blaz­ers in the Kennedy Krieger In­sti­tute’s Phys­i­cally Chal­lenged Sports Pro­gram.

“She would watch me play dif­fer­ent sports and then try to do the same thing,” Tatyana said. “I loved help­ing her, just like I’ll love hav­ing a sis­ter in Rio. There is a spe­cial bond that we have, and we can share a lot of those mo­ments to­gether.”

Still, Han­nah said, it’s hard to fol­low in her sib­ling’s tread marks.

“Tatyana has done such amaz­ing things,” she said. “But at the same time, at the end of the day I have to zone all of that out and fo­cus on my own races. It takes a lot of men­tal train­ing; I’m still work­ing on it.”

None­the­less, in the Par­a­lympics, Han­nah hopes to stay near to her sis­ter as they line up for the 100-me­ter fi­nal to­day.

“I hope I’m in the lane next to her,” Han­nah said. “I’d def­i­nitely have a bet­ter start and a bet­ter time. She’s my good-luck charm.”

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

MATTHEW STOCK­MAN/GETTY IM­AGES

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN PHOTOS

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