TODAY   |  March 07, 2014

Adopted Paralympic star returning to Russia

Russian-born U.S. Paralympian Tatyana McFadden, an 11-time world champion, sits down with NBC’s Kate Snow to chat about training to compete in cross-country skiing at Sochi’s Paralympics.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we're calling "rise to shine." a chance to share with you a person we found really inspiring. nbc 's national correspondent kate snow has the story of an athlete at the top of her game despite tough obstacles in her way.

>> reporter: spend some time with tatiana mcfadden and you'll see her coach calls her the beast.

>> why does everyone else get these sweet nicknames and i get "the beast"?

>> but the nickname fits.

>> people go to me and go, oh, my gosh, you're jacked, you know. and i say, yes, because i'm an athlete. i train every single day.

>> reporter: those biceps, her sculpted back is what keeps her moving.

>> we've been following her for miles, about 20 miles per hour.

>> yeah.

>> she is fast.

>> she is fast.

>> tatiana mcfadden of the united states .

>> reporter: she pulled off a grand slam last year winning four marathons, more than anyone ever had wheelchair or not. she's an 11-time world champion , won three gold medals at the last summer paralympics . last fall, she decided to start training in a whole new winter sport , cross-country skiing.

>> how are you feeling?

>> good. i have a lot of technical things to work on.

>> reporter: with just 50 days on snow ever, she landed a spot on the team going to sochi . a trip that in a way takes her life full circle .

>> i'll be competing for the united states of america .

>> reporter: she grew up in a russian orphanage with spina bifida , her spine protruding out her back.

>> my legs were out my back so i used my hands as my legs to get around everywhere in the orphanage for six years.

>> you walked on your hands.

>> i walked on my hands.

>> when she was 6, american official debbie mcfadden visited.

>> i looked at her and it was almost like fate.

>> you had that feeling at the age of 6?

>> yeah, at the age of 6. i looked at her and like, oh, that's going to be my mom.

>> i couldn't get her out of my mind. i've never had that feeling before. there was something special about this child.

>> it was debbie who introduced her to sport after sport and it's debbie who manages her career now. she'll be cheering her on in sochi as she has been all the way. this isn't her first trip back to russia. a few years ago she went to visit the orphanage to say thanks. she gave the director one of her marathon medals and met her birth mother for the first time.

>> i think as a mother, she did the hardest part, and that was to give me up. she had to say, okay, if i put her in the orphanage, hopefully someone will give her a greater life. so i really respect her as a person. and i have to say thank you.

>> she'll see her birth mother again this time. she's invited her to come to sochi to watch her compete.

>> what do you want your moment to mean to people?

>> you're going to see my story of being adopted, of being a paralympic athlete but also an elite athlete. someone who is determined, passionate. strong.

>> her mom debbie says it's not about the medals but something bigger.

>> she fought to survive life. there's been so many reasons why she shouldn't have survived, and she is the best in the world now. to see her up on a podium. it's not the win of the sport. it's the win at life.

>> for "today," kate snow , nbc news, midway, utah.

>> it's just an unbelievable story. and by the way, it reminds us to tell you you can see the opening ceremony of the sochi paralympics today on nbc -sn with a replay tomorrow at 1:00 p.m . on nbc . and nbc -sn will have daily coverage of the paralympics streamed live on