Grace Strobel is a 23-year-old model, who’s just like any other model who dreams of walking in New York Fashion Week. But there’s one thing that sets her apart, she was born with Down Syndrome.
When Grace was born, the doctors told her parents she would always struggle with reading, writing, and most of our normal daily activities. They even recommended that they place Grace in a professional institution who takes care of children with Down Syndrome. Her parents recognized this but refused to focus on it.
Instead, they focused on her potential, not her limitations.
“We didn’t look at it as a syndrome,” Grace’s mom, Linda Strobel, told NBC News. “We looked at it (as), OK, we’re going to help her become the best person she can.”
They took her home and helped Grace reach her potential. Linda learned everything she could about Down Syndrome and all the ways to stimulate brain development for babies. She also learned as much as she could to help newborn Grace to build neck muscle and tone.
Linda also homeschooled Grace. For four to five hours each day, she taught Grace how to read and write. Both of their hard work paid off because by the time Grace was five, she had already memorized a thousand words and she knew how to read.
Grace’s dad, Jeff, did his own share of helping Grace reach her potential.
Jeff set up an incline board, covered with carpet, and used Grace’s sippy cup to motivate her to crawl towards it. They also set up different obstacles in their living room to help Grace crawl. The same obstacles helped Grace to walk when she got a little older.
Not only were these obstacles developing Grace’s motor skills, but it was also a way to boost her nervous system and neurodevelopment.
And when Grace was eight years old, they decided to enroll in her school so Grace could develop social skills.
“I was on a mission,” Linda said. “I didn’t care what other people said or did. [And] I surrounded myself with like-minded people.”
Some of the schools didn’t understand Linda’s mission for her daughter and didn’t know what to do with Grace. She had one teacher before who had Grace color worksheets all day every day. And Grace was also being harassed by her schoolmates so Linda moved Grace from school to school.
She still hoped that Grace will be able to turn these negative experiences into positive experiences.
And she did. Grace become a motivational speaker and spoke to thousands of students about life with Down Syndrome. And she always ended with a request to her peers to be kind and compassionate to people with differences.
“I wanted to share with students what it’s like to have struggles, and I wanted to show how we can change someone’s life just by being kind and giving respect, no matter who you are,” Grace told Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie on TODAY. “We want all the same things: to be valued, to be respected and to be loved.”
Linda’s hope came again when Grace was 22. While she was researching Down Syndrome, Grace read a story about a model who had the condition. She told Linda about it and asked if she could model as well. Linda said anything was possible.
Linda hired a photographer to take photos of Grace. Grace got all dressed and stood in front of the camera.
When the camera flashed, Grace became a different person because her face was filled with a radiating smile and she posed so naturally. She was born to be a model.
When her photos were posted online, they quickly went viral. Her modeling career was about to begin.
Linda was able to get the contact info for Ola Hawatmeh, a fashion designer and celebrity stylist based in St. Louis. She wrote to her and explained Grace’s situation and her desire to become a model.
Ola was moved and agreed to help Grace become a model. Ola taught Grace a crash course on modeling and, for the finale, created a custom dress for Grace to wear for Atlantic City Fashion Week.
“When I look at Grace, I see courage and beauty,” Ola Hawatmen said.
Grace was draped in a long, white dress and was the finale of the show, where she was met with thunderous applause.
“I love modeling because it makes me feel good about myself,” Grace said on TODAY.
Linda and Jeff worked hard those early years to help Grace reach and even surpass her potential and they didn’t realize just how far Grace will go.
“When I see her modeling and when I see her standing up in front of students, and the students are sitting up on their knees and they’re glued to her and all they want to do at the end is hug her. It just fills me with such incredible joy that I can’t even explain, because I know how hard she’s worked to get here,” Linda shared.
Learn more about Grace Strobel and the journey she took to get where she is now by watching the video below.
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