To most University of Mary Washington students, Grace Anne Braxton is just another worker at the Nest.
Yet one look at her resume reveals a life that has been anything but ordinary.
From Virginia To Shanghai
After nearly 17 years of practice, Braxton traveled to the 2007 Summer Special Olympics in Shanghai, China three weeks ago, adding a gold medal in golf to her string of awards.
The local resident dominated the other four women in the competition, edging out silver medalist Rita Dunne of Ireland by 36 strokes.
Braxton and her parents arrived in China with seven other Virginia athletes on Sept. 29, spending a few days exploring Shanghai before the opening ceremony Oct. 2.
Braxton said this was one of more memorable parts of her trip.
“We really didn’t have very much free time when we were in China but the opening ceremonies were a blast,” she said. “We had Arnold Schwarzenegger walk with our team.”
After earning a gold medal in the 2005 National Golf Championship with an 87 in Level 5 18-hole individual stroke play, Braxton set out to defend her title as the world’s best Special Olympics female golfer.
Throughout five days of play, Braxton posted scores of 98, 92, 96 and 93, representing Va. as the sole golfer.
When Braxton wasn’t competing from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., she cheered on her fellow teammates.
Braxton not only came home with top honors, but enjoyed her two weeks in a foreign country.
“It was fun, it was different, like the language barrier,” she said. “The people were really friendly and nice but it’s a lot different than here. I liked it, I just got tired of the food because all they had was pasta and rice and stuff like that.”
Ahead Of The Pack
While Braxton’s time in Shanghai was memorable, she has been no stranger to winning.
In addition to golf, Braxton is an avid swimmer, earning another gold medal in the 200 meter backstroke last year in the Special Olympics National Championships in Ames, Iowa.
Despite the awards, Braxton said she plays for a different reason.
“I like meeting new people and going to new places,” she said.
China not only marked the furthest Braxton has gone for competition, but was the first time the Special Olympics were held in Asia and the second time outside of the United States. Braxton had previously traveled to Florida, California and Iowa.
Her travels were supplemented with the honor of 1992 Special Olympics Virginia Athlete of the Year and a position on the board of directors.
For Love of the Game
It has been a slow and steady road to the Olympics for Braxton.
She began playing about 17 years ago when her father, Harrison, introduced her to the sport.
“She saw me playing and asked if she could try,” he said. “We started out with putting and chipping and the Fairfax Park and Recreation Department had a tournament for handicapped athletes and I called them up and I said, ‘Does your tournament include mentally handicapped athletes?’ and they said, ‘We don’t know, we’ll call you back.’”
It was a call that set Braxton’s golf career in motion.
“They said, ‘We hadn’t thought about that but you’re welcome to play in the tournament’ and so she and I went up and played,” he said. “It was an introduction and I’ll always be eternally grateful to them for their willingness to accept a golfer who wasn’t physically handicapped.”
According to Braxton’s father, she began playing alternate shot before eventually moving up to nine and 18 hole individual play.
Braxton’s success doesn’t come without work, though. When she’s not working at the Eagles Nest, Braxton practices at the Fredericksburg Country Club.
The awards are a bonus, but it’s Braxton’s commitment that makes her father most proud.
“She has a determination to succeed in everything,” he said.