As if Tatyana McFadden hadn’t had enough to overcome in her life, the world’s most accomplished female wheelchair marathon racer added blood clots to her list in 2017.
McFadden, who won the Grandma’s Marathon women’s wheelchair event in her lone appearance in 2015, underwent three surgeries two years ago to remove the potentially deadly ailments from her legs.
After about two years of treatments and medications, McFadden has made a complete recovery and will be at the Grandma’s Marathon starting line in Two Harbors on Saturday morning.
“It was definitely a scary time, thinking, ‘Will I ever have my career back? What’s the recovery time after this?’ ” McFadden said by phone Wednesday from her home in Clarksville, Md.
After rising to the pinnacle of the sport by winning 17 Paralympic Games medals, sweeping every major marathon several times over and setting world records at five distances, McFadden was at a training camp in California in 2017 when she noticed swelling in her legs. She went to a hospital emergency room and was diagnosed with blood clots.
“My feet turned really purple and my body was aching. It was really, really bad,” she recalled. “It was rough. I kept clotting and the clots were so bad (doctors) couldn’t get through to break them up. They were pretty much like stone. During the surgery they would try to use a catheter and try to break up the clots, but they couldn’t do that for me. My clots had gotten so bad they couldn’t regulate them.”
According to the National Blood Clot Alliance website, 100,000 to 300,000 people die of blood clots each year.
McFadden was among the lucky ones.
“It almost cost her her life,” her mother, Deborah McFadden, said. “She’s been recovering from that ever since. That series of blood clots cost her getting back up to speed in training.”
McFadden missed the 2017 London Marathon and was out of competition for 3-4 months. She suffered from lymphedema — swelling in the legs — and gained a lot of water weight.
“The doctors said it would take 18 months to recover,” Tatyana McFadden said. “I am just now getting myself back. I am feeling a lot better. I’m not in pain, so I can handle the training sessions.”
The setback was just the latest storyline in the 30-year-old McFadden’s life. Born with spina bifida in St. Petersburg under Soviet rule, McFadden was left to die for the first three weeks of her life. After surgeons sewed up the hole in her spine, she was sent to an orphanage, where she was without a wheelchair and moved around on her hands.
Deborah McFadden, then a commissioner of disabilities for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, adopted the precocious 6-year-old and brought her to the United States, gave her a wheelchair — and a new lease on life.
She’s been unstoppable on paved roads and surfaced tracks ever since.
Grandma’s is one of her favorite courses and she hopes to better her personal best of 1 hour, 35 minutes and 5 seconds.
“Grandma’s is a great race,” she said. “It’s a flat course and it could be a fast course if the weather is just right. It’s a great marathon to work on a lot of the techniques I need to work on, like turns and downhills.”
McFadden also will be using a new wheelchair. Her racing chair broke a year ago and she plans to use this new one at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
“This is an important race for her, trying out a new piece of equipment,” her mother said.
Defending champion Susannah Scaroni of Urbana, Ill., who has a PR of 1:33:17, returns as her main competition. The matchup could lead to a thrilling finish in Canal Park.
“If the weather is good, you never know if there will be another course record broken or not,” Tatyana McFadden said. “I’m definitely looking to run a fast time.”
Two-time defending champion Aaron Pike of Champaign, Ill., who has the best PR (1:22:09) in the men’s field, is seeking to be the first male to win three in a row since Saul Mendoza captured five straight from 1999-2003.
Spain’s Rafael Jimenez, 40, is the top masters competitor and hopes to add to his 2007 Grandma’s title, while 2016 winner James Senbeta also is entered.
Half-marathon wide open
The withdrawal of Jordan Hasay, who owns the second-best time in the marathon among American females, has left the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon women’s field without a clear favorite.
Hasay of Beaverton, Ore., has a personal record of 1:07:55 for 13.1 miles, far better than the rest of the contenders, but she pulled out Tuesday due to an undisclosed injury.
Among those whose times put them in the mix when the race begins at 6:15 a.m. Saturday are Burnsville, Minn., resident Katy Jermann, who was sixth a year ago in the Bjorklund and was fifth earlier this year in the Pittsburgh Half Marathon with a PR of 1:12:11; Kelsey Bruce, the 26-year-old from Grand Prairie, Texas, who beat Jermann by nearly two minutes in this year’s Houston Marathon and was fifth in the 2016 Grandma’s; and Adriana Nelson of Boulder, Colo., who is registered in the citizen field, having entered through a Grandma’s Marathon charity partner despite winning the 2013 Bjorklund when it served as the national championships.
Defending men’s champion Panuel Mkungo of Kenya returns after scorching the course in 1:02:50 in 2018. Benson Cheruiyot, a 36-year-old Kenyan, is entered with a PR just one-hundredth of a second behind Mkungo’s winning time a year ago, while Danny Docherty of Richfield could be the top Minnesotan finisher.