Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Paralympic gold medalist Grace Norman aims to spread 'His love and His message' in Tokyo

Grace Norman won the first women’s paratriathlon gold medal in Paralympics history in 2016, and she is in Tokyo with her eyes on capturing another.

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The Norman who will compete on Sunday (8:31 a.m. in Tokyo; women’s PTS5 class) is significantly more mature and experienced than the one who took home gold (PT4 class) at just 18 years old. (She also won bronze in the women’s 400m T44.) Persevering through the coronavirus pandemic, and the disruptions it caused to her preparations for the Paralympics, gave the 23-year-old a newfound appreciation for being able to compete at the highest level.

“As athletes, we train for racing,” Norman said on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in July. “And to not really have a goal as far as when the next race was, it was really hard to keep going. It was kind of like, ‘Well, maybe the Paralympics are going to go, maybe they’re not.'”

Born without a left foot due to a condition known as amniotic band syndrome, Norman had her left leg below the knee and right big toe amputated when she was young. She played a variety of sports growing up but didn’t fall in love with one until she found running.

Her mom, who ran at the collegiate level, coached her throughout middle and high school. The triathlon appealed to her because it was an opportunity to excel in three athletic areas rather than one.

Norman won her gold medal just before beginning her college career at Cedarville University in Ohio, and arrived on campus a month late because of the Games. She relied on the same people who helped her reach the top of her sport to help her manage the attention she received after her success in Rio.

Her parents were also responsible for introducing her to the Christian faith. She grew up going to church and had Biblical values such as humility instilled in her from a young age.

“It wasn’t just me who won that gold medal,” Norman said on the podcast. “I had a team of people behind me helping me reach that, and so they continued to help me deal with that. So my parents have been huge, even up to now.”

The postponement of the Tokyo Paralympics turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Jamestown, Ohio, native, who was able to complete nursing school and then focus solely on her training. Norman was initially drawn to nursing by the other medical professionals in her family, but developed her own passion for the profession over time.

“I love being able to have excitement in my workplace but also being able to touch lives and help and be that healing touch and that presence when patients are in tough situations,” she said.

 

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Norman really took ownership of her faith during college, though she struggled to feel close to God at times during the second half of her collegiate career. She says God has come back into her life in “full force” this past year and the goal in Tokyo is to honor Him.

“He has everything planned out in His timing and His will,” she said. “The best I can do is glorify Him, use His gifts, to [perform to] the best of my ability and spread His love and His message. That’s really what’s been driving me recently.”

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