Wheelchair Athlete Wins Right to Race Alongside Runners
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
A celebrated high school athlete who uses a wheelchair will be allowed to compete in a high school track meet against her able-bodied peers who will race on foot, under a ruling issued yesterday by a federal judge.
Tatyana McFadden, 16, a sophomore at Atholton High School in Columbia, will be allowed on the track at the same time as the other competitors but will be scored separately under a preliminary injunction granted yesterday in Baltimore by U.S. District Court Judge Andre M. Davis.
Davis ruled in a lawsuit filed against the Howard County Board of Education by McFadden and her mother, Deborah.
Tatyana McFadden is among the world's top wheelchair racers.
The school system had allowed the teenager, born with spina bifida and paralyzed from the waist down, to practice and travel with the track team.
But at track meets she has been limited to racing -- usually alone -- in events designated for wheelchair athletes. She and her mother argued that the distinction prevented her from participating fully in team life.
McFadden's lawsuit was based on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which the judge cited in his ruling.
He found the school system in violation of the act, which prohibits the exclusion of people with disabilities from programs and activities that get federal funding.
School officials said yesterday they will comply with the ruling. It was not clear whether they would pursue the matter further.
"We're going to have to follow the judge's orders because that's all we can do," said Mike Williams, county coordinator of athletics. "The judge ruled in her favor, so we have to abide by what he says."
McFadden said yesterday that she will compete in a county meet at Long Reach High tomorrow in the 200-, 400-, 800- and 1,600-meter runs.
"My next race is going to be so meaningful to me because I'll feel like everybody else," McFadden said. "Before, the only way I could compete was by myself, and it felt like I was just out there alone."