Grace Norman, pictured above winning the gold in the PTS5 division at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, will compete for her third consecutive world title on Saturday, September 15 in Gold Coast, Australia.
Disappointment isn’t a word generally associated with Paralympic gold medalist Grace Norman, because when she does something, she puts every ounce of energy she can squeeze out into whatever is motivating her.
And winning certainly is at the top of her list. After all, she became the historic first Paratriathlon Paralympic champion at age 18 when the sport debuted at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016.
While the 20-year-old from Jamestown, Ohio, has had a rocky season by her standards, Norman can erase any bad memories Saturday when she goes for her third straight title at the ITU Paratriathlon World Championships in Gold Coast, Australia.
“I’m very excited,” said Norman, who spent 23 hours on planes and another hour on a bus to travel from Dayton, Ohio, to Gold Coast. “It was a long travel here, but it was completely worth it. I’ve had a strong training year this year, so I’m excited to see what I can do in this race.”
Norman comes into the event ranked second behind Great Britain’s Lauren Steadman in the PTS5 division.
After sustaining a stress reaction in her right foot while running track for Cedarville University that sidelined her for a month this spring, Norman had little time to fully prepare for the World Paratriathlon Series stop in Yokohama, Japan, in May. That combination resulted in a second-place finish for Norman, finishing 2 minutes, 7 seconds behind Steadman.
“(The foot injury was) a big part of it,” Norman said. “I hadn’t been running and normally the run is my strongest, so coming into the race and not having that in my bag of tools was a bit challenging. My run definitely showed it, it wasn’t there, but I’m back and ready to rock.”
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Norman certainly rocked in the July WTS event in Edmonton, winning by 21 seconds over Canada’s Kamylle Frenette in defending her title from the previous year, and is eager for a rematch with Steadman. The two have developed quite a rivalry.
“We’ve raced together for the last few years now,” said Norman, who edged Steadman by four seconds at last year’s worlds. “We’re very friendly with each other. ... She’s a very strong athlete and gotten a lot stronger this year and I think it will be a very tough race.”
The rivalry blossomed when Norman announced her presence on the international stage at the 2016 Paralympic Games. Steadman was the clear favorite but was upended by Norman by more than a minute.
“That was a big surprise,” Norman said. “I was 18 and not really expecting that to happen. I kind of went into the race as an underdog to Lauren Steadman and came out on top and was overjoyed with how that race went and everything that happened.”
Now, Norman is refining her skills while maintaining her spot as one of the world’s elite paratriathletes. As an avid runner – she also qualified for the 2016 Games in track and field and was 2015 U.S. Paralympics Track & Field High School Female Athlete of the Year – she calls that part of the triathlon her strength, with swimming not far behind. Cycling is where she is working the hardest to improve.
“The bike has always been a challenge to me just because I didn’t grow up a cyclist,” she said. “I had to put a lot more into biking, whether that is being on the bike or mentally preparing for the bike. During a race, I just try to stay focused and not get super distracted by the things around me and that kind of helps me back into what I’m doing right then and there with the bike portion of the race.”
Regardless of how Gold Coast goes, Norman is keeping an eye on Tokyo for the 2020 Games.
“These next few years leading up to Tokyo is very important,” she said. “I would love to win (this race), but Tokyo is the goal."
Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.