The word ‘inspirational’ is used a lot when people talk about the Paralympics. But “dominating” is the best way to describe Team USA star wheelchair racer Tatyanna McFadden’s performance in Rio this year.
She’s chasing seven medals in all, her first gold — this year — was for her 53.3 second finish in the 400 meter T54 sprint.
T54 is a track and field classification that includes people who compete using a wheelchair, indicating the participant has limited or no truck function, paraplegia and average hand function.
McFadden was in lane six, wearing a white-and-black helmet and her signature, single braid tucked behind an ear. She started fast, dug in with powerful shoulders down the stretch–before crossing the finish line with a smile and wave.
It’s hard to find television coverage of the Paralympic games and and lots of people aren’t even aware they are happening.
“Oh my gosh, you are missing the best athletes in the world,” said A.J. Nanayakkara executive director of the Global Abilities Foundation.
“It just happens that some of them are blind, some people are missing limbs, some of them are in wheelchairs. Make no mistake these are elite athletes and it’s a beauty to watch,” he said.
Nanayakkara says elite athletes need to get a start somewhere but there aren’t enough adaptive sports programs available for newbies.
“For every athlete in the Paralympics there are thousands who just want to participate recreationally,” he said. “There are countless people who are just staying home. They don’t know what they are capable of.”
Each fall, Global Abilities and Moss Rehab in Philadelphia give people a chance to try scuba, tennis, wheelchair rugby-and other adaptive sports. This year’s event called Rec Fest is Saturday September 24th.
Nanayakkara says people with disabilities often struggle with depression, isolation and anxiety — especially in the first months and years after an injury. Sport, he says, can boost mental health.
“And that gives you the tools and confidence to go back to school, go get a job, start dating and really start living life again,” he said.