Skip to main content
Update Location

My Location

Update your location to show providers, locations, and services closest to you.

Enter a zip code
Or
Select a campus/region

Amazing Grace: Paratriathlete Grace Norman’s Pursuit of Gold With Help From UF Health

Grace Norman doing an interview

Fitted for her first prosthetic leg at just 13 months old, it’s hard to fathom how many times in her life Grace Norman has put one on and taken one off.

After 26 years, the Paralympic triathlete knows she can never fully detach it now, figuratively speaking. Her prosthetic is permanently fastened to her image as a gold medalist, as she blazes a trail for millions around the world.

Despite this unshakable association, Grace — born with an amniotic band disorder that resulted in the loss of her left foot and right big toe — has built a legacy that is less defined by what she’s lost than what she’s gained. It’s so much less about her disability than her ability.

“I am a strong athlete whether I have a prosthetic or not. I work as hard as any athlete at this level,” Grace said. “When I toe the line beside you, whether it’s a carbon foot or a flesh-and-bone foot, I put in the same amount of work, if not more, into my sport and my craft. That’s what I stand for.”

Grace Norman posing for a photo at a lake
Team USA’s Grace Norman will be looking to win her second gold medal in Paris this summer. (Photo by Betsy Brzezinski)

She’s made that evident by becoming the first girl with a disability in U.S. history to finish on the podium at a high school track and field state championship (against able-bodied athletes), by winning gold in Rio in 2016 at just 18 years old, the youngest athlete in the paratriathlon field. And by going undefeated over the last two paratri seasons.

With the paratriathlon making its debut on the world stage in Rio, Grace’s gold was historic but not dramatic.

The event — normally lasting over an hour — consists of a 750-meter swim, then a 20K bike race before concluding with a 5K run. Grace was ahead of the second-place finisher — the favorite entering the event — Great Britain’s Lauren Steadman, by 30 seconds after the swim, before outpacing her by a whopping 1 minute, 27 seconds in the run.

Grace’s final time of 1 hour, 10 minutes, 39 seconds was more than a full minute faster than Steadman and almost 4 minutes faster than the bronze winner.

Steadman responded in Tokyo by taking gold in 2021, but Grace hasn’t lost an individual race since November 2022. That stretch includes a dominant win in the 2023 World Paratriathlon Championship in Spain with her main competition, Steadman, and another Brit, Claire Cashmore, in the field.

With that win, Grace captured her fourth world championship and qualified for this summer in Paris, where she hopes to extend her winning streak.

“I’m looking to take home gold in Paris this year,” Grace said. “I want to continue to raise the bar in international competition for Paralympians like myself, athletes with disabilities, and just continue to forge the way for that.”

But before her successful string began, she had a health concern to beat first.

Ironwoman

With Grace collecting victories in the U.S., Japan, France, Spain, Canada, Great Britain, and the United Arab Emirates, among others, it was hard to imagine her suffering from an underlying health issue. But it was starting to surface.

Before the 2023 season, Grace was found to have a significant iron deficiency. Grace — who trains part time in Bloomington, Indiana, and part time in Clermont, Florida — eventually visited UF Health, where she saw hematology and oncology specialist Anita Rajasekhar, MD.

“Grace came to us with symptoms that are very common for iron deficiency, and these included palpitations, or a fluttering heart rate,” Dr. Rajasekhar said. “She had some significant fatigue, which obviously can interfere with her training and competitive performances.”

Grace Norman at sunset
Grace Norman receives treatment at UF Health for a significant iron deficiency. (Photo by Betsy Brzezinski)

Iron is one of the building blocks for red blood cells, which carry oxygen to tissues. If someone doesn’t have enough red blood cells or is anemic, they can be severely affected, especially elite athletes who undergo high-intensity training. An iron deficiency like Grace’s would not only impact her performances, but her quality of life.

Dr. Rajasekhar is part of UF Health’s effort to stay at the forefront of how to best treat iron deficiency, with or without anemia. She talked to Grace about the options available to enhance her iron stores and the two agreed on intravenous iron.

“At UF Health, we’ve instituted giving IV iron in shorter periods of time, which patients love, and also doing one-time doses rather than having them come back for weekly doses,” Dr. Rajasekhar said. “And we’ve also tried to steer away from universally giving premedications (those that are given to prepare for a forthcoming therapy) because generally, they don't work very well, and they can cause symptoms in and of themselves.”

Grace says the palpitations have subsided since her treatment changed. When her iron levels dip, Grace returns to UF Health for a checkup and gets another infusion.

“Dr. Rajasekhar and my care team have been so great checking in on me, making sure I’m getting the right care for what I need and getting me back ready for racing,” Grace said. “I’ve loved working with UF Health.”

A new sport and star is born

Grace was still in middle school when she found out the paratriathlon would debut on the world sports stage in 2016.

The 5K part of the race was what drew in the gifted distance runner. That, and the fact that the Jamestown, Ohio, native was born into a family of runners. Her mother, Robin, ran track in college. Her older sister, Bethany, and younger sister, Danielle, were both NCAA Division II track athletes.

Her main inspiration was her father, Tim, an Ironman triathlete.

“That’s how I initially found the sport of triathlon,” Grace said. “At that level, my dad had started competing in triathlons a few years before, and I saw it as a great challenge because I grew up swimming and running and I was like, ‘I could figure out biking. It’ll be fine.’”

Before triathlons became an option for her, Grace competed in track and field and cross-country in high school. That’s when she finally found what she needed to chase her athletic aspirations.

And with it, Grace was unleashed.

“When I received that first running prosthetic, my whole life opened up and changed,” said Grace, who wears a J-shaped carbon fiber Cheetah prosthetic. “I was able to actually be fast and my true potential was accelerated. Prosthetics are very important, especially for an athlete but also for everyday life. I can’t live my life without it, and finding the right ones to match your different activities in life is so important.”

Grace running
Grace Norman comes from a family of runners and excels in the 5K running portion of the triathlon.

Not long after, Grace made the aforementioned history at Xenia Christian High School, defying all precedent by finishing on the podium at a track and field state championship against able-bodied girls. She then competed in NCAA Division II track and cross-country for Cedarville University, following in her sisters’ footsteps.

Now, Grace is a full-time triathlete who will be seeking her second gold medal on Sept. 1 in Paris. However, that will depend on whether her hard work pays off in one key area.

Grace gears up for Paris

Grace knows the one thing that stands between her and first place in the triathlon: the bike race.

Four years ago, Grace started working with a new coach, Greg Mueller, to focus on cycling, which was the only part of the triathlon costing her precious time.

“It’s been a roller coaster,” Grace said. “I met him the year before Tokyo and we basically said we cannot focus on anything except my weakness, which was the bike.”

Grace cycling
Grace Norman has been working with her coach to improve her performance in the 20K bike race portion of the triathlon. (Photo by Betsy Brzezinski)

Grace’s goal is to stick close to the competition with her already-strong swimming and improved biking before pulling away from the field like the freight train she is in the 5K run.

“We have all cylinders firing where we have built that really strong bike,” she said.

There to watch Grace with her family will be her husband, Evan Taylor, a jazz trumpeter who tours with Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Frankie Valli.

"It’s exhilarating to watch her compete. It's fun to see her doing what she loves,” Evan said. “And I think just more than anything, I just love watching her get out there, doing her thing and smiling when she comes across the finish line, knowing that she did something really cool.”

And that something doesn’t have to do with what place she’s in at the finish line. In the end, Grace’s inspiration comes from breaking through every wall along the way.

“Challenges can just be a phase,” Grace said. “Instead of focusing on, ‘This is going to be my entire life,’ think of it as a phase and keep looking forward. Realize that you’re in a challenge for a reason and see how you can grow through it and come out stronger on the other side.”

Grace posing for a photo with an American flag

About the author

Talal Elmasry
Marketing Content Writer

For the media

Media contact

Peyton Wesner
Communications Manager for UF Health External Communications
pwesner@ufl.edu (352) 273-9620