Saturday in Pontevedra, Spain, the 25-year-old who grew up just outside of Jamestown and graduated three years ago from Cedarville University, won the 2023 World Paratriathlon Championship.
It was the fourth world title in her already storied career and helped qualify her for the Paris 2024 Summer Paralympic Games.
But before her race season began this year, she, like all the elite U.S. Olympians and Paralympians, was required to get an annual medical check-up.
“She went to Texas Children’s Hospital (in Houston) and they discovered she had a significant iron deficiency,” her mom, Robin, said Monday afternoon. “Her iron levels were very low; she was pretty anemic. It’s a common issue you find with a lot of elite women runners.”
Grace got an iron infusion and was put on supplements her mom said: “It took her two or three months to get back to where she should be, and she felt good again.”
Most people hadn’t noticed a deficit — at least not when it came to her athletic performances.
She was undefeated in 2022, as she competed, among other places, in Abu Dhabi; Montreal; Coruna, Spain; Besancon, France; Yokohama, Japan; and Sarasota, Florida.
She is the most-travelled, most-decorated athlete now competing out of the Miami Valley. She’s won events on five continents.
As a teenager she won a gold medal in the paratriathlon at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Paralympics and a bronze in the 400-meter run. She took a silver medal in the paratriathlon at the 2021 Tokyo Games.
Late start this summer
She was born with an amniotic band disorder that cost her a portion of her lower left leg, and with it, her ankle and foot. She also lost her right big toe and, nearly, her right leg.
Rather than shelter and confine her, her parents — Robin and Tim — opened her eyes and imagination to the possibilities of the world.
At 11 months, Grace was toddling around the house on the stub of her leg. A couple of months later she got her first prosthetic leg.
In third grade, when she broke her prosthetic foot during a soccer game, Robin told the coach to just duct tape it and let her keep playing.
Once at Xenia Christian High School, she took the leg off at the Metro Buckeye Conference swimming championships and won the 500-freestyle competition, swimming against able-bodied boys.
She then became the first disabled girl in state championship history to make the podium at the state track meet when she finished eighth against able-bodied girls in the 1600-meter run.
At Cedarville — running on a J-shaped, carbon fiber Cheetah Flex Foot — she competed in NCAA Division II cross country and track against able-bodied athletes while getting a degree in nursing.
After graduation — and under the wing of the U.S. Paralympic Committee — she’s become one of the nation’s most successful athletes.\
This year she didn’t start her international competition until June, but now has won twice in France and in Montreal, Swansea, Wales, and Spain.
This summer a problem with a liner on her prosthetic leg made her stump sore while competing in Europe and she spent a month healing and training at the National Institute of Sports, Expertise and Performance in Vichy, France.
She came back to dominate in a pre-Games test meet in Paris in mid-August and then came her real Iron Woman performance in Spain this past weekend.
The field contained all the best women in the world — especially her two top competitors, Lauren Steadman, the gold medal winner in Tokyo, and Claire Cashmore, both Brits — and after they all were close following the 750-meter swim and 20 K bike race. But Grace pulled away in the 5K run, her specialty.
She won the world title, finishing 1 minute 10 seconds ahead of Cashmore.
She then put on another strong performance in the new Mixed Team event —which included her and three other paralympic teammates — and the U.S. won gold there, as well.
Busy upcoming schedule
Grace was flying back home to Bloomington, Indiana, on Monday, where she lives with her husband, Evan Taylor, a PhD. music student at Indiana University and an accomplished jazz trumpeter.
He tours with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Franki Valli and also plays with a rock group out of Miami, Florida.
Robin said Grace will be home just about a day — “she and her husband sometimes pass in the airport” — and then heads to New York City.
She’ll compete in the New York City Triathlon/Paratriathlon and then, three days later, she is a sponsored athlete for the Challenge Athlete Foundation and will compete in the 1,576 step Empire State Building Run Up.
After one more event in Grand Rapids, Michigan, she’ll finally take some time off her mom said.
Even an Iron Woman needs a little rest.