Wheelchair Athlete Races With High School Peers

For the first time ever Thursday, Tatyana McFadden, a gifted wheelchair athlete, was allowed to race alongside her high school track teammates.

She calls the race the best 4 minutes and 37 seconds of her life.

"That was the first time I got to run with everyone," said McFadden, 17, a sophomore at Atholton High School in Columbia, Md. "People saw how I competed. The crowds went wild. It was so exciting."

McFadden, who suffers from spina bifida, and her mother, Deborah McFadden, sued the Howard County, Md., school system in federal court in Baltimore in a two-year-battle. Tatyana finally won the right this week to race alongside -- but not against -- able-bodied athletes.

"She won the race to be included," Deborah McFadden said, "and as I sat there with the other moms and they said, 'Go, go, go!' to their children. I'm thinking that's all Tatyana wanted. That's all I wanted, to be a part of everything."

Until Thursday's meet, the school system had only allowed McFadden to practice and travel with the team, and limited her to special races for wheelchair athletes, which sometimes meant she was the only one on the track.

"Competing by myself was lonely and embarrassing and I didn't like it," McFadden said. "Once I was racing with everyone, I got that feeling of a little competition."

Howard County school officials said mixing the two types of competition would change the nature of the sport and present a safety issue. But McFadden's teammates didn't see it that way.

"I was definitely supporting her," said teammate Katie Fitzenreiter. "I didn't understand why she couldn't compete with anyone else. I know she would never cause an accident. She's never done that before."

Abandoned at birth and given just two weeks to live, McFadden was adopted by her mother from a Russian orphanage and brought to America. Whether it's track, ice hockey, basketball or winning gold at the para-Olympics, there's nothing McFadden won't try -- even driving.

She hopes her victory will make a difference and help others living with disabilities have the courage to stand up for what they believe in.

"They should never give up, 'cause they know that if it's been done before that it can be done again," she said.

ABC News' Andrea Canning originally reported this story for "Good Morning America."

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