Doctors whisked Grace from her parents the minute she was born to run tests on her. About four hours later a genetic counselor came to their hospital room to give them the news: Grace had Down syndrome, a genetic condition that impairs cognitive development and can cause a range of health issues. She would face a lifetime of challenges, the counselor warned them.Linda and Jeff Strobel, who had not yet even held their baby girl, listened in shock while she told them their daughter would never read or write.
There is no shame in this at all,” Jeff remembers her saying, “there are still institutions that will take her. Just take your time to think about it.”
They each remember that day 22 years ago in California vividly. It lighted a fire in Linda. They would show this counselor and anyone else who thought their child wasn’t capable.
They named her Grace Elizabeth.
Linda started working with her the minute they got home. She put her on her belly to help her build muscle tone in her neck. She read everything she could on how to stimulate brain development in babies. They embarked on a lifelong journey in which she became her daughter’s teacher, coach and cheerleader.
“When I look at Grace, I see courage and beauty."
Jeff, a Navy veteran, appreciated the intensity of his wife’s training and joined in however he could. They set up an incline board, covered it with carpet and used her sippy cup as motivation to get Grace to crawl up it. They built obstacle courses in their living room to help her crawl, then walk. Linda focused on more than her baby’s gross motor skills; she researched ways to boost her nervous system and neurodevelopment.
Anything is possible, her mom said.
Last summer, she hired a photographer to take modeling photos. Grace comes alive in front of the camera. When Linda posted the images of Grace on Facebook, the photos went viral. People from around the world sent encouraging messages. Her sister, Laine, was so blown away by how the pictures from one of Grace’s photo shoots turned out, she kept them on her phone, posted them on her Instagram and showed anyone who walked by her at college.
“Look at my sister,” she said.
A friend gave Linda the contact information for Ola Hawatmeh, a St. Louis fashion designer.
“My daughter has a dream to become a model,” Linda wrote to her, explaining her circumstances.
“I’m going to make her dream come true,” Hawatmeh said. She gave her some runway lessons on how to walk. She gave her homework to practice. She designed a dress to fit Grace’s 4-foot-11, petite frame. Designers are not allowed to bring their own models for Fashion Week shows in Atlantic City, so she reached out to the organizers to get special permission.
Grace strutted out as the finale in the show in a long, white dress. The audience erupted in the loudest applause of the show.
Hawatmeh has invited her to walk in her fall show during New York City’s Fashion Week.
Good for her!
“When I look at Grace, I see courage and beauty,” she said.
Grace has been featured on the cover of Chesterfield Lifestyle Magazine. Other magazines have run inside editorial spreads about her. The local high school newspaper did a story on her. She’s been interviewed by several local TV stations. She continues to work with her occupational therapist to learn how to shop for groceries and cook for herself with the dream of living independently one day.
Her father says he wishes he could buy the genetic counselor they met when she was born a plane ticket to New York to watch Grace walk the runway.
When she’s not practicing her walk or her talk, Grace still volunteers in a preschool and kindergarten classroom.
The Wombat has Rule 5 Sunday: Satellite Girl and FMJRA 2.0: Let’s Dance up and collecting hits.