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Wheelchair athlete can compete in track events

1/9/2007

BALTIMORE -- A wheelchair athlete will be allowed to race
alongside her high school teammates at track meets.

Tatyana McFadden, a 17-year-old two-time Paralympic medalist,
had already won a preliminary injunction from a federal judge that
allowed her to compete with her teammates until the case could be
heard.

On Monday, Howard County Public Schools came to a settlement
with the Maryland Disability Law Center to allow McFadden, who has
spina bifida, to participate in the same number of track events as
other students. She'll also be able to wear a team uniform, earn
points for her team and receive recognition of her accomplishments,
such as school letters.

"This situation, where even a world-class athlete had
difficulty competing in high school because of her disability, has
taught us all a great deal," Lauren Young, director of litigation
for the Disability Law Center, said in a statement.

The center filed the federal suit on McFadden's behalf.

In May, McFadden and an able-bodied teammate were disqualified
from a 1,600-meter race at state track meet after she was accused
of pacing the teammate, who won the race before her time was thrown
out. Without the 10 points from the victory, Atholton High School,
the defending Class 2A state champion in girls' track, finished
third.

McFadden, whose legs are paralyzed, won a silver and a bronze
medal at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, and plans to compete in
the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing. Her lawsuit challenged the Howard
County school system policy that forced her to compete separately
from runners -- often by herself, a circumstance she termed
"embarrassing."

McFadden's mother, Deborah McFadden, said her daughter simply
wants to compete with her teammates.

"We didn't sue for money; we sued for opportunity," Deborah
McFadden told The Baltimore Examiner.