HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) — The ice rink is Hillary McFadden’s playground.
“I like going fast and feeling free on the ice,” Hillary said. “It’s exercise, makes me feel good, [and] boosts my self esteem.”
She’s competed in speedskating at the Special Olympics for over 20 years. She’s so accomplished, in fact, that she has dozens of medals to her name.
“I like to go out there and inspire people,” Hillary said. “It doesn’t matter if you win, tie, or lose.”
Her positivity is infectious, and her laughter contagious. She knows it doesn’t matter if she wins, but she does tend to do just that.
“It’s just amazing what she can do,” said one of her coaches Greg Hammaker. “I wish I had some of the confidence she does.”
But she is more than meets the eye.
“On the ice she can feel where she is out there,” said Area M Speedskating Head Coach Brett Eshenour. “She knows how many laps we’ve done.”
Hillary is totally blind, and on the autism spectrum. Skating with her coaches as her guides, Greg and Brett shout out directions to tell her which direction to skate.
“I can’t imagine the amount of trust she has [in us],” Eshenour said.
Hillary is the only speedskater in the state with total loss of sight. There is one other competitor in PA Special Olympics who is considered legally blind, although she does have some vision.
“For once she finally gets to do something, she’s free,” said her sister Sara McFadden. “She can go as fast as she wants.”
“It’s one of the only times she doesn’t have to touch someone or use a cane to be mobile,” said Hillary’s mom, Karen.
Her 20-plus-year speedskating career supported by her family every single stride of the journey.
“There are a lot of things Hillary does that surprises us, but it’s never unexpected,” Karen said. “I expect her to do whatever she wants to do”
Hillary takes that support and runs with it. She has worked multiple jobs before the pandemic, competed in a variety of sports and even owns her own business.
“A lot of people in this world who are sighted think that people who are blind are not capable and that’s not true,” Hillary said. “People who are blind are capable of doing anything they put their minds to.”
Hillary runs her business from home, making braille menus for local restaurants in the Harrisburg area.
“I want blind people who go to restaurants to feel welcome,” Hillary said. “If the restaurants need braille menus, I’d like them to keep in touch.”
At the end of the day, Hillary, her family and her coaches says it’s about believing that anyone can do anything.
“There is no such thing as can’t,” Eshenour said. “You try. You may fall, but get back up and go again.”
And Hillary always gets back up.
“I hope [people watching the story] take away inspiration. Like the story would inspire them. I would inspire them,” Hillary said.
Hillary hopes to one day compete in Special Olympics World Games, until then, she’ll keep skating every week around Hersheypark Arena with her teammates.