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21 September 2018

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Paralympic Spirit

Author: Maria Antonova

May/June 2014
Page 50   ( 4 pages)

Summary: Two Russian-born athletes adopted by Americans make a triumphant showing in the land of their birth.


It was not hard to find the family of Tatyana McFadden in the stands of Laura, the mountain ski center built above Sochi for the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Amid a sea of Russian flags (and a few Ukrainian ones thrown in for good measure) there was a woman waving a star spangled banner and a group of kids shaking a homemade poster that screamed, “Go Tatyana Go!”

About twenty years ago, Tatyana's mother Deborah visited a St. Petersburg orphanage. There she saw a little girl crawling about the playroom on her hands. She had no use of her legs due to spina bifida, and had no wheelchair. But the sparkle in her eyes stayed with Deborah, a US government worker in Russia on an aid mission.

Although doctors told Deborah that Tatyana's problems were so great that she would probably die, she eventually adopted Tatyana nonetheless, shepherded her through numerous operations, and enlisted her in sports to build her endurance and muscle tone.

This past March Tatyana returned to the country of her birth as an accomplished athlete. In fact, McFadden is one of the brightest stars of America's Paralympic movement. Already a Paralympic champion in the summer sport of wheelchair racing, and winner of a handful of the world's most notable marathons, McFadden was hungry for more. So she started skiing, qualified for the national Paralympic team, and, although she only had limited experience with snow, took a medal in Sochi's 1-kilometer sprint race.

Yet as McFadden sat in the sun in her US uniform, her hair tightly braided before the start, she was not the only orphan from Russia or the FSU whom an American family had gifted with a second chance in life. Racing alongside her was Oksana Masters, born in 1989 in Khmelnitsky, Ukraine, and adopted by Gay Masters. Oksana was born without weight-bearing bones in her legs – a congenital condition caused by radiation poisoning from the Chernobyl nuclear plant catastrophe.*

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