Baltimore, July 20, 2021—Three athletes from Kennedy Krieger Institute’s adaptive sports program, two wheelchair racers and one wheelchair basketball player, will head to Tokyo next month to compete at the highest level of their sport at the 16th Summer Paralympic Games.
All three athletes are alumni of Bennett Blazers, Kennedy Krieger’s sports teams for physically challenged youth. The non-profit program has sent nine to the international competition in the past two decades.
Track and field competitor Tatyana McFadden is a 17-time Paralympic medal winner who has participated in five previous Paralympic Games, bringing home seven gold medals, seven silver medals, and three bronze medals. She also produced and was featured in the Netflix documentary, “Rising Phoenix,” about Paralympians. McFadden, 32, grew up in Clarksville, Maryland and now lives and trains in Pensacola, Florida.
Daniel Romanchuk, another track and field athlete, competed in the 2016 Paralympics and trained with McFadden when he was a teenager. Romanchuk, who will turn 23 just before the Paralympics, broke the American record in the 100-meter at this year’s Paralympic trials. He also has won Boston, London, Chicago, and New York wheelchair marathons; in fact, he was the youngest person to win the Boston marathon. Romanchuk is from Mount Airy, Maryland and now lives and trains at the University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois.
The third Bennett Blazers alum on the Paralympic team is Lebanon, Pennsylvania native Ryan Neiswender. Neiswender, 27, played basketball with the Bennett Blazers program from ages 12 to 18, and then played on the University of Illinois’s wheelchair basketball team. This is his first Paralympics.
Husband and wife team Gerry and Gwena Herman started the Bennett Institute Physically Challenged Sports Program at Kennedy Krieger in 1989; their goal was to teach children and teenagers with disabilities “what they could do before someone told them they could not”. At the time, many sports fans paid little attention to the Paralympics. However, as sports opportunities have grown for children with disabilities, so too has public awareness, Gwena says.
“Paralympians are athletes just like Olympians, and what they are doing is just as impressive as the able-bodied athletes,” she says. “These athletes put in the hours and the time and the training. They compete across the country, and they are just as competitive and just as spectacular as other athletes.”
To learn more about McFadden, Romanchuk, and Neiswender, visit teamusa.org. To learn more about the Bennett Blazers program at Kennedy Krieger contact Jessica Gregg, director of public relations, or visit bennettblazers.org.
About Kennedy Krieger Institute
Kennedy Krieger Institute, an internationally known, non-profit organization located in the greater Baltimore/Washington, D.C. region, transforms the lives of more than 25,000 individuals a year through inpatient and outpatient medical, behavioral health and wellness therapies, home and community services, school-based programs, training and education for professionals and advocacy. Kennedy Krieger provides a wide range of services for children, adolescents and adults with diseases, disorders or injuries that impact the nervous system, ranging from mild to severe. The Institute is home to a team of investigators who contribute to the understanding of how disorders develop, while at the same time pioneer new interventions and methods of early diagnosis, prevention and treatment. Visit KennedyKrieger.org for more information about Kennedy Krieger.