UMW celebrates Special Olympian Grace Anne Braxton
By HANNAH GALEONE
In mid-March, at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi, the University of Mary Washington’s Grace Anne Braxton took to the greens, representing the United States and the state of Virginia in golf. Over four days, Braxton shot an average of 88 and went on to win the silver medal.
“I was very happy and very excited [when I won the medal],” said Braxton.
Braxton has been a Special Olympics golfer since 1981 and has been playing the sport since high school. When Braxton started playing golf, she realized how much she loved it and enjoyed practicing her newfound passion. Grace can be seen out on the course at the Fredericksburg Country Club playing a round of golf with her father, Harrison Braxton.
“I try to play golf, [Grace] actually plays,” said UMW President Troy Paino. “I see her out on the course a lot because I play the same [one]. To accomplish what she did is just an incredible feat. I want her to give me lessons someday.”
In 1991, Braxton took home the gold in swimming at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Minneapolis, MN. Sixteen years later, in 2007, at the Special Olympics World Games in Shanghai, China, Braxton took gold in golf “where she won the title by 32 strokes” according to an article on the PGA website.
In 2011, Braxton went on to capture the gold medal for the second time in golf at the Special Olympics World Games in Athens, Greece. In Athens, “Braxton finished with a 72-hole 383 aggregate to claim the Division I women’s competition” according to an article on the Perfect Sense website.
Braxton is the number one female Special Olympics golfer in the world and still defends that title today. At the World Games this March, Braxton won by 75 shots.
“I was thinking about a couple of things when I was going and playing golf,” Braxton said in an impromptu speech at the celebration rally held for her on campus on April 11. “I was thinking about my community, which is here [in Fredericksburg], and the United States of America. I was the only person from Area 11, from Fredericksburg, VA, representing this team.”
Braxton said that she had a lot of stress during the initial days of the competition because of the strong winds on the course.
“I had a lot of stress for the first two days because the wind was really windy, you can ask my dad and you can ask my mom too,” said Braxton. “The course was link style. [This] means that they didn’t have any trees [on the course].”
Braxton said that competing in the World Games in Abu Dhabi was a great experience and she even was privileged with a police escort to and from Washington Dulles Airport.
“It was fun,” said Braxton. “I liked it a lot. It was different because the signs had both Arabic and English on them.”
Participating in international competitions has helped Braxton find her passions and spend time doing the things that she loves. Braxton has also served four years on the Virginia Special Olympics board of directors.
“Special Olympics has helped me become an active person in my community,” says Braxton in her Special Olympics athlete profile. “I help out as a volunteer with basketball championships and as a volunteer with new local golfers.”
Braxton is adored by her family, employers, the faculty and staff, and the students of UMW.
“I think she’s awesome,” said freshman history and religious studies major Cameron Wills. “It’s always cool seeing her, [and] her accomplishment for what she did is amazing.”
“Grace is a phenomenal individual and she’s had a significant impact on the community,” said dean of student life, Cedric Rucker.
Braxton has been working at the University for 24 years with Sodexo, the campus dining retailer at UMW.
“We are just overwhelmed with the support from her employer here at Sodexo, from the college students, and the whole Fredericksburg community,” said her mother, Gail Braxton. “We’re grateful that the Special Olympics has given her the opportunity with these fabulous, fabulous competitions.”
“Grace, she just rocks. I can’t put it any other way,” said retail dining director Kiesha Childs. “She cares about what she does, about helping, and about being part of the team.”
Students, faculty, and staff say Braxton has impacted them and the UMW community.
“[Grace’s] heart is huge and she’s made a great difference at the university,” said Rucker.
“She cares about what she does, about helping, [and] about being part of the team. To me, she’s my ‘G.’ I love her, she’s my friend,” said Childs.
As of now, Braxton has no plans to stop playing golf. She plans to continue playing and competing in the sport as well as staying sharp in the pool as a competitive swimmer.