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Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Girl: Separate events were 'lonely and embarrassing'

Associated Press

BALTIMORE -- A high school track athlete who uses a wheelchair will be allowed to race alongside her teammates for the rest of the school year under a federal judge's order.

Tatyana McFadden, 16, had been allowed to practice with the Atholton High School track team in Columbia, but the school system required her to compete in separate wheelchair events.

"It was lonely and embarrassing, and I just didn't like it," McFadden said. "Other competitors would come up to me and they would say, 'Good race,' but it wasn't really a good race because I was running by myself."

The Maryland Disability Law Center filed the federal suit on McFadden's behalf, citing the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits exclusion of persons with disabilities from programs and activities that receive federal funds.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Andre Davis granted the request for a preliminary injunction against the school system.

McFadden, who won two medals at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, said Monday night that she was looking forward to competing in the meet Wednesday.

"This is important to me because I wanted to get the same thrill and the same experience as all the other high school students," she said. "There's no competition by myself."

Mark Blom, an attorney for the Howard County school system, said last month when the suit was filed that the system had worked with McFadden to allow her to be a part of the team and to incorporate wheelchair events into track competitions, but it is against merging the two types of events.

The judge disagreed.

"She's not suing for blue ribbons, gold ribbons or money; she just wants to be out there when everyone else is out there," Davis said.

McFadden was born with spina bifida. Her mother, Deborah McFadden, called the ruling a landmark.

"The Rehabilitation Act has been around for 33 years," she said. "Maybe we've succeeded in a classroom setting, but there's more to a person's life."