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U.S. Paralympian Reunites With Russian Birth Mother

Published: March 11, 2014 (Issue # 1800)



  • McFadden and her Russian birth mother (c) after she completed the women’s 12km seated cross-country ski event.
    Photo: Rob Harris / AP

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Pushing through pain in her debut at the Winter Paralympics, Tatyana McFadden only had to remember who was watching to draw inspiration on this emotional homecoming.

Together in the stands at the cross-country skiing were McFadden’s Russian birth mother and the American who adopted her as an ailing child.

Related: America's St. Pete-born Paralympic Star Blocks Out Political Tensions

“I got to see them before I raced so I think it gave me that extra energy, an extra boost,” the 24-year-old McFadden said after finishing fifth. “I just raced for my family today. When I was feeling tired, in pain and frustrated I just had to think about my family in the stands.”

When McFadden left a St. Petersburg orphanage for Maryland 20 years ago, she was not expected to live long, let alone return to Russia. After spending the first six years of life walking on her hands because of spina bifida, even after several operations in the U.S., her adoptive family feared the worst.

But McFadden survived against the odds, with a fighting spirit that drove her into an unlikely yet successful sporting career, leading to Sunday’s emotional and rare reunion with the mother forced to abandon her.

“I am very proud, it’s amazing,” said Nina Polevikova, beaming with pride to her daughter as her Russian family translated. “It’s like a miracle.”

McFadden is already a decorated athlete, with 10 medals from the last three Summer Paralympic Games in wheelchair racing, and last year the first “grand slam” in wheelchair marathon racing.

Deborah McFadden, who adopted Tatyana at age 6, had expected the winnings from the Boston, Chicago, London and New York marathon to be spent on a new car. Instead that cash was used to bring her birth family and the St. Petersburg orphanage director to Sochi.

“Tatyana’s my daughter, but it’s taken a lot of people to get her where she is today,” said Deborah McFadden, who first met Tatyana in Russia while working as a commissioner of disabilities for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“She’s alive and she is back in the country where I met her where she wasn’t supposed to survive.”

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Oct. 24


SPIBA’s ongoing “Breakfast with the Director” series continues today, featuring Tomas Hajek, Managing Director of the Northwest Division at Danone Russia. Hajek will be discussing collaborations between businesses from different cultures. The meeting is at 9 a.m. at the Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel and all who wish to attend must confirm their participation by Oct. 23.


Get your gong on at “Sounds of the Universe,” a concert at the city planetarium this evening incorporating six different gongs to create relaxing songs that will transport you upwards into the stratosphere. Tickets are 700 rubles ($17).



Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop culture, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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