It's been weeks since the bright lights of the Olympics have dimmed in Rio. But the true spirit of the Olympic Games came to life once again last Friday night when Grace was awarded her very first gold medal.
It all started several months ago, when our friend and Morrisonville teacher, Janet Walch, sent us a message that her nephew, a world champion power lifter, wanted to meet Grace.
|Grace is all ready at her table for the football game.|
Meet 17-year-old Karter Brachear of Taylorville. In the world of power lifting, he is an eight-time world champion, 23-time world champion and has won 15 gold medals at the AAU Junior Olympics. Karter has also broken more than 200 Illinois state records, 56 national records and 48 world records, in addition to being named an AAU Academic All-American for his performance in this classroom.
But what sets Karter apart as an athlete isn't the records he's broken or even his schoolwork in the classroom. Four years ago, Karter and his family founded the Gold Medal Team, which awards gold medals to individuals who inspire him with their stories.
|All lined up and ready for the medal presentation.|
We were lucky enough to meet the first inductee onto the Gold Medal Team and her family at Grace's ceremony. Karter met Lauren Reuther, who now lives in Auburn, when she was a patient at St. John's Hospital in Springfield, battling what is known as "brittle bone disease." She continues to be a champion for that cause, and was kind enough to come down with her family to be part of Grace's night too.
|Karter presenting Grace with her medal.|
Since the founding of the Gold Medal Team, Karter has now presented four of his 15 gold medals to special recipients, and we were so honored that he picked Grace this year. Earlier this summer, Karter and his dad made the trip to Hillsboro to meet Grace, and they started talking about ideas about how to present the gold medal. Karter's dad, Doug, wanted the ceremony to help bring more awareness and funding for INAD.
|It was such a "golden" moment for Grace.|
We ended up deciding to make the presentation at a Hillsboro High School football game, and Coach Aaron Duff and his team were gracious enough to allow us some time before their home opener. Kyle also set up a GoFundMe account called Gold for Grace, which raised over $300 for INAD research at Washington University.
|The Gold Medal team with State Representative Avery Bourne.|
The night of the ceremony finally arrived, and we were blessed that State Representative Avery Bourne joined us for the presentation to help raise even more awareness about INAD. We all gathered before the game started, and even though Kyle couldn't come because he had to cover another football game, we sent him a lot of photos.
|Hanging out with Grandma Susie at the game.|
We made our way to the track, and Journal-News publisher Mike Plunkett was the announcer for the football game. He did a great job making sure things went smoothly, and I got to help Karter officially present one of his gold medals to Grace. It was such a special moment to be a part of, and we are so honored that Karter chose Grace to be on his Gold Medal Team.
|Her buddy, Lindsey Storm came over to say hi!|
After the presentation, Karter, Lauren and Grace posed for photos with some of their adoring fans, and we enjoyed sitting around and visiting with their families for the first half of the football game. Grace got a little fussy toward the end when she was tired and ready to go home, but all in all, it was a great night.
|A special hug from her friend, Dahlia.|
One of my favorite parts happened the next morning. When Grace woke up, she and I got out her gold medal to show Kyle. As soon as she saw him, her eyes lit up and she began vocalizing to him. Although she can't actually use any words, I know she was trying to tell him all about getting her very own gold medal and how excited she was. And I knew Kyle understood exactly what she was trying to tell him.
|Although I didn't let her sleep in her medal, she was definitely all smiles after a great night!|
As I close the blog, I'm going to include a special letter that Karter wrote to Grace about his journey and why he started the Gold Medal Team. We are truly humbled for such a golden moment on this "Grace-Filled Journey."
I have had many opportunities over the past few years to meet incredible individuals who just by their presence make the world a better place. Individuals who live their lives to help others including people they meet and others they never will. The common trait I have found in these special people is they remain positive regardless of the circumstances they face, accept what they can't change and work relentlessly to positively change what they can. They share the struggles and the victories. They are unique in that they willingly and happily share their special gifts without asking for anything in return. They are the people I consider to be my role models and strive to emulate. I learn from them and am inspired to train, compete and win.
Four years ago I met Lauren Reuther. She is a champion, and exhibits all of the traits listed above. I awarded her one of my AAU Jr Olympic Gold Medals and together we started the Gold Medal Team. Each year I compete at the Jr Olympics and look for an inspiring individual to join our team.
Early this year I learned about Grace. My aunt Janet told me about her and her amazing parents. She told me about "A Grace Filled Journey " and I started following her story. I had to meet her and her parents. Grace is so properly named. She lights up a room with her smile. Her story is inspirational. Daily she faces adversity and moves through life with grace. She has a very rare genetic disorder which is currently not treatable or curable. Many would not, but she and her parents work continuously to raise awareness and funds to fight INAD. Her story is shared through " A Grace Filled Journey ". If you have not yet become a follower look it up. It is a very positive and inspiring blog. Grace lives, and reminds us not to exist but to truly live.
Tonight, Lauren and I welcome Grace onto The Gold Medal Team. She earned this medal. Grace and her parents are role models, and I am very thankful that we met. Grace, Mary , and Kyle will not ask for anything and did not ask to join this team. It was my idea and I asked them. I need to thank a few people for making this night possible. My parents for their support, my grandmother "Linda Mommo" for making my dreams possible, my coach, Steffen Smith, for pushing me to reach my potential, coach Duff and the Hillsboro Toppers for providing this location, and Avery Bourne for joining us to help raise awareness.
Tonight, I am going to ask everyone here to follow Grace's lead and give what you can to fight INAD. We all have something to share and together we can make a difference. The Gold Medal Team will be available for pictures with you through the first quarter for the donation of your choice. Donations can also be made through Go Fund Me account "Gold for Grace". If a donation is not possible please share what you have seen tonight, enjoy the game, and treat each day as a gift.