Grace Shines Bright
Written by Laura Davis
I will never forget the day that Grace was born.
Grace was our first child so everything was new to my husband, Chris and me. I had a wonderful pregnancy with no complications. I had five ultrasounds just because my doctor was sweet and knew I loved getting them. All of them looked great. A month before I was due, my water broke. Grace came into the world on April 29, 2002. The delivery was wonderful and everything went smoothly. About five minutes after Grace was born, the doctor came in and said “We suspect that Grace has Down syndrome.” It was the biggest shock of our life. I was 27 years old and my first thought was, “I am not 35.” We learned that day that 80% of babies being born with Down syndrome are born to moms younger than 35. It was a hard day because we didn’t have any family with us. Since she was a month early, our parents were not with us. We were living in Ohio at the time and our parents lived in Alabama. It was a hard day for sure not knowing what Grace’s future looked like.
I will be honest and say, I had a hard time at first. I was sad for Grace because I wanted her to have everything that every little girl deserved and I did not know what to expect. When she was two weeks old, I said to myself, “Ok, how can I help her; let’s get started with this new life.” We had Grace in therapy when she was 4 weeks old and we went 6 days a week to some kind of therapy. We called it “Mommy’s Bootcamp.” Ha! Grace was reading sight words when she was two years old so the boot camp was helping.
We moved home to Birmingham, Alabama when Grace was two. We moved to a neighborhood that had lots of sweet families. One family in particular was and is very special to us. The Glaze family has three daughters and their younger daughter, Emily became Grace’s best friend very fast. It is a relationship like no other. I have never seen a child love Grace the way Emily loves her. She has included Grace in her life since they were two years old. When they were in 6th grade, Grace came home from school one October day and told me all about the first pep rally they had at their school. She told me, “Mom, I want to be a cheerleader.” She cheered all through the house that day. She continued to tell me for a week that she wanted to be a cheerleader. I thought to myself, “Oh boy, I don’t know if that is going to work out.” As the weeks went on, Grace continued to beg to be a cheerleader, and so I finally took her seriously. I decided to put her in a cheer class. Keep in mind that it was October and cheer tryouts were in February, 4 months away. Emily said to me soon after Grace joined that cheer class, “If Grace is going to try out for cheer, then I will too.” So Emily and Grace took a cheer class; Emily got a private gymnastics coach to learn how to do a back handspring; and Emily’s mom and I got the two of them a private cheer coach. We did all that we could to get them ready for tryouts in 4 months. The week of cheer tryouts came and it was one of the best weeks of my life with Grace. She did amazing and kept up with everyone else. I never knew she could do what she did. I was SO PROUD of my baby girl! She worked so hard that week because she really wanted it.
Cheer tryout day came and Grace and Emily both felt good about their tryout. That night Emily’s family and our family ate dinner together and we decided it didn’t matter what the results were; we could hang together when the girls found out. The adults were eating dinner in the dining room and we heard Emily scream, “I made it!” We all got excited for her. Then there was silence. Grace did not make the squad. But
sweet Grace in her loving way, said, “Let’s have a party for Emily!” Grace continued to cheer around the house that night while I fought back tears for her. We just wanted her to have a normal experience at school and we were sad because that is all she wanted. She didn’t realize at that time that she wasn’t going to be a cheerleader with Emily. About 2 hours later after they found out the results, Emily’s mom called me and told me to look at Instagram. At that time, I was on Instagram but didn’t know how to work it. She told me to look at a petition that was started, “Let Grace Davis cheer!” I couldn’t believe it. Over 600 people signed the petition. To this day, I don’t know who started that petition but I am so grateful for them. Parents that I didn’t even know wrote letters to the board telling them to let Grace cheer. It was the neatest experience to see the community come together and fight for something that had never been done before. In April (2 months later), I got a call from the principal and he told me that she could be the Spirit Girl with the cheerleaders. We were elated!! Grace was so excited!
I will say that it was not easy in the beginning. The sponsors were not for this at all. They had never had a child with special needs on the squad before and they didn’t know what to expect. I had to have a lot of meetings with them and reassure them that it was going to be great. The entire student body was for it and to see the school cheer for her during the pep rallies was really special. I thought to myself, “Now, this is what inclusion is all about.” Grace has cheered ever since 7th grade. It has been one of her biggest accomplishments. To see where she is now and where she started, is pretty awesome. And she was the one who wanted it; that is what I am most proud of. She went after something she really wanted and achieved her goal. Emily was cheer captain at the middle school and high school; that was neat to see too. Emily worked so hard as well and it all started because she wanted to be with Grace. It has been so fun to watch them cheer together these last 6 years.
Another huge dream of Grace’s was to go to college just like her friends. She has worked so hard in school to achieve this dream. It was a huge accomplishment to be accepted into the Clemson Life program and the EAGLES program at Auburn. She went through a vigorous application process and interview process to get into those two well respected and competitive programs. With lots of prayer, Grace decided to attend the EAGLES program at Auburn. She decided she wanted to be a little closer to home. Auburn is 2 hours away from our house. Emily is going to Auburn as well and we didn’t know that at the time Grace decided to go but then when we found out Emily was going to Auburn, it was the icing on the cake to Grace’s decision.
We are so excited about Grace being able to go to college. At the time of her birth, we never dreamed she would attend college. We never knew anyone with Down syndrome that went to college so we didn’t think to start saving for Grace to go. I tell every new mom that has a baby with DS to start saving for college because you never know!!