LINCOLN — After a 13-year break from competition, Cheri Becerra-Madsen of Union, Nebraska, is back on the winner’s podium.
Becerra-Madsen claimed the silver medal in the 400-meter race on Sunday night at the Paralympics in Brazil.
The woman now considered the world’s fastest in a racing chair, Tatyana McFadden, 27, of Clarksville, Maryland, claimed gold for the United States in a time of 53.30 seconds. Becerra-Madsen, 39, finished second in 54.50.
“She came out strong but a little behind, but then she started closing in on the leaders,” said Becerra-Madsen’s mother-in-law, Patty Madsen of Nebraska City. “She caught up to all of them except Tatyana.”
Becerra-Madsen’s 10-year-old daughter talked with her mother after the race.
“She said she was happy with what she did,” Madsen reported.
Becerra-Madsen, a mother of two daughters, has used a wheelchair since age 3 due to the effects of an unknown virus. She held three world records following the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, but then stopped racing to start a family.
She began training again three years ago as a tribute to her younger brother, Mario III, and their father, Mario Jr., who were both killed in a car-train crash in 2007. Her brother had urged her to return to the sport so that her daughters could see their mother at her best.
Mike Kearney, director of the Ambassador Rehab & Wellness Center in Nebraska City, served as trainer for Becerra-Madsen’s comeback. On Monday, he said she had completed a long road back after having two children and being a stay-at-home mom.
“It’s easy to put together the workouts, but she has the superior athlete’s mind frame and commitment,” Kearney said. “She had the internal drive to do it.”
Becerra-Madsen placed fifth in the 100-meter race on Friday at Rio de Janeiro and will compete in the 400-meter relay later this week. She said earlier in the summer that she had the best chance to medal in the 400 and the relay.
Patty Madsen said her daughter-in-law’s supporters have been gathering at a sports bar in Nebraska City to watch her races live via the Internet.
Two other Nebraskans are competing with U.S. Paralympic team.
Natalie Schneider, 33, of Crete is a member of the U.S. women’s wheelchair basketball team. She was on the gold-winning 2008 team and the 2012 team that finished fourth. The U.S. team beat Algeria 65-15 on Monday.
TaLeah Williams, 19, of Norfolk, a member of the University of Nebraska at Omaha track team, placed fifth in the long jump with a leap of 16 feet, 11½ inches.
A record 4,000-plus athletes from 22 countries are expected to compete in the Paralympics, which are traditionally held just after the Olympics.