Para-athlete sets her sights on winning NYC Marathon

(CBS News) It will be a big day in New York on Sunday. The New York City Marathon returns a year after being canceled in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. More than 48,000 people are entered, each with their own reason to race. But none of the stories will inspire more than Tatyana McFadden's.

Sometimes she wins by a lot and sometimes she wins by a whisker.

However she does it, 24-year-old para-athlete Tatyana McFadden is on a literal roll that no wheelchair racer has ever been on before

"It's been an unbelievable year," she said.

That may be an understatement. So far she's won this year's Boston Marathon. Six days later, she won in London. Three weeks ago she took Chicago in course record time.

If she wins Sunday, that would make it all four major marathons in the same year. No one else has ever won three.

"I wanna be even better," she said. "I wanna be even faster, I wanna really push this sport, you know?"

This "grand slam" would be another boost for disabled sports, coming off record ticket sales and TV ratings for the 2012 Paralympics in London.

Does she see a change in American culture about how para-athletes are viewed? "They are finally understanding the sport," she said. "Before, they used to say, 'Oh, what do you do? What's Paralympics? Is it Special Olympics?' But with the media coverage, social media like Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, it's bloomed."

Companies like BP and Coke are now featuring para-athletes in their ads, banking on their inspirational stories, which agent Patrick Quinn said allows his clients to bank for themselves -- in some cases more than half a million dollars a year in endorsement income.

"The fundamental things thing that they are finding is that the Paralympians as a whole have more interesting, more compelling stories," said Quinn.

"I can't even believe I was in that orphanage for six years," said McFadden, referring to when she was foundering in a Russian orphanage suffering from spina bifida -- until an American health official on a tour, saw her walking on her hands and adopted her.

"And living in an orphanage, especially having a disability," McFadden said, "they don't want you to live."

Twenty years later, her determination is still evident in her nickname "the Beast" -- earned from her unrelenting roadwork thru the Midwestern cornfields and her brutal gym work at the University of Illinois' training center. The school is the undisputed leader in disabled athletics, sending more athletes to the 2012 Paralympics than many countries did.

"We have stories and we've overcome barriers," said McFadden, "but yet we're so powerful in what we do. Not just for sports in general, but just for life...nothing will stop us from living."

Tatyana's dominance extends beyond marathons. She's expected to qualify for cross country skiing for next year's Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.