by Tim Smith
The year is 2016. The location? Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The occcasion? The 2016 Paralympics. For runner Grace Norman, this was the moment she had been working toward.
Norman lost her left leg at birth after being diagnosed with con – genital constriction band syndrome. After years and years of adversity and training, the time had come for Norman to shine, and it was up to her to take advantage of the opportunity. And take advantage she did, earning the gold medal in the triathlon.
Norman’s path to success started long before this fateful day, and the process had taken her to a small Christian school in the cornfields of Ohio, a school that would be fundamental in her training both physically and spiritually: Cedarville University.
When it came time to start looking at colleges, Norman did not have a plethora of options.
“Cedarville was really my only option when it came to colleges,” Norman said.
But despite being her only choice, Cedarville was not devoid of connections for Norman. In fact, that was the one thing she did have an abundance of when it came to the university.
“My dad, Tim Norman, is a professor [at Cedarville] and I had grown up around the school,” Norman said. “My older sister Bethany also attended and ran for the Jackets.”
Cedarville did not only offer familial ties, though. The university also aligned with the desires she had for her future — academically and athletically.
“I was majoring in nursing and Cedarville has an outstanding nursing program that I wanted to be a part of,” said the Cedarville alumna. “I wanted to run in college, as I had seen success in high school and wanted to continue on to a collegiate career. I saw that Cedarville had a really strong women’s distance team for both track and cross country and thought it would be a great fit.”
Training the Body is of Some Importance
Norman’s training at Cedarville was the springboard she needed to bridge the gap between being a strong runner and a Paralympic gold medalist.
“Running in college at Cedarville kept my racing and competitive edge all year around and gave me more racing experience,” she said. “It definitely helped me develop into a stronger and more mature athlete.”
The experience of running for the Yellow Jackets helped Norman improve her physical performance, but it also improved her mental performance while racing. Running in a collegiate meet compared to running in a professional event is drastically different, but the experience gained is vital for mental preparation at the professional level.
“This helped me come to the triathlon and the Paralympics with a depth of knowledge of racing that helps me be able to react to different situations thrown at me in higher level competitions,” Norman said.
Norman’s training at Cedarville was an enjoyable experience as well as a growing one. Her time as a Yellow Jacket helped her realize that she could achieve more than she ever thought possible.
“I loved being pushed to my limits and encouraged to reach farther, to set goals I thought I would never be able to meet,” she said.
Learning Outside of Athletics
Outside of athletics, Norman’s time at Cedarville also trained her for life beyond college.
“Everything at Cedarville that I learned, I took into my athletics,” Norman said. “And athletics taught me so much that I took forward into life outside athletics.”
The most important lesson, she said, was learning to have life balance. Athletics was not the only thing on Norman’s plate. She also had to balance schoolwork and relationships. Norman loved her time in Division II athletics, as it allowed her to put this practice of balance to the test.
“I loved competing for Division II because I was able to have extremely strong competition but also be able to balance USA triathlon and academics,” she said.
So, What Now?
Her time at Cedarville was foundational, but her collegiate career has now passed. So, what now? Well, the answer to that question may include more gold medals.
“The short-term future is the Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Games, competing in triathlon,” Norman said.
If that year sounds incorrect, that’s because the 2020 Paralympics were postponed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The wait for the event may feel painstakingly long, but athletes like Norman are just happy that the games are still going to happen.
After the next Paralympic games, the future is a bit more uncertain for Norman, but she still has goals.
“Long term, we shall see what happens, but the goal is possibly a few more Games cycles.”
With that in mind, Norman looks to keep competing at a high level for as long as she can. Not even the greatest storytellers could have written the story of a girl competing at a small Christian school amidst the cornfields becoming a Paralympic gold medalist. Yet that story has become a reality. The school that started off as a logical choice became a foundation for preparation, both in athletics and life.
And who knows? Maybe more gold medals lie ahead for Norman. We will just have to wait until the summer of 2021 to see.
Tim Smith is a junior Biblical Studies major and staff writer for Cedars. He loves football, 3 Musketeers candy and primarily speaking in movie quotes.