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Written by Amanda Carter, Gracie’s mother:

Throughout a person's life they will ultimately come in contact with multitudes of other people. Most of those people will have very little impact on that person's life—and certainly won’t significantly impact their overall journey in any profound manner. However, in a world filled with billions of people, that same person might be fortunate enough to meet someone during their existence that wondrously changes their life forever. 

I was that lucky person the moment I met Gracie. She is everything that I aspire to be. She is inspiration, she is strength, she is confident, she is selfless, but most importantly she is my daughter.

I became a mother in 2005. That’s when I first laid eyes on Gracie. The pure sight of her offered an incredulous feeling of love mixed with absolute terror. I was so scared that such a little person depended on me for everything. In Gracie's innocent eyes I was perfect. In theory, I was everything she needed but living up to those standards turned out to be pretty stressful. It wasn’t long after Gracie's birth that our lives would be forever changed.

One morning I woke up for an early feeding and found Gracie very sick. She was vomiting uncontrollably and needless to say I was terrified. I took her directly to the hospital only to find that Gracie wasn't sick at all—she was injured. 

Looking back, everything happened extremely fast. Instead of being told what anti-biotic I should give her, I was told that Gracie had a fractured skull, bleeding on the brain, five broken ribs, and bleeding behind both kidneys as well as behind both of her eyes. Someone close to her had violently shaken her. 

Her doctor proceeded to tell me that if she makes it through the night it would be a true miracle. He explain that Gracie had Shaken Baby Syndrome and that the prognoses, in his words, were hardly ever bright. 

Well, miracles do happen because Gracie survived. 

Gracie and her brother getting ready for a fun day at the zoo!

Here we are 14 fabulous years later and Gracie still suffers with the long-term effects of her injuries. The thing is though, as tough as she’s always had it, she continually has a smile on her face. Some may look at my child and only see the disability, but Gracie has taught me to see all of her abilities! There are those that may feel nothing but sympathy for her when they look in her direction, but she has taught me to feel pure empathy for all I see. When I stop to think of the daily trials and tribulations that Gracie is faced with each moment of each day, I am immediately inspired to keep going.

My daughter has given me the mental ability to overcome any obstacle that is put in my way.  Case in point, at a ripe 35 years old, I’ve decided to go back to college to receive my diploma that is long overdue.

It’s unexplainable, but from the moment we met, Gracie became a beacon of hope in my life. Dozens of surgeries, thousands of therapy sessions, and what feels like millions of doctor’s appointments—yet she smiles through it all. I’ve yet to meet anyone that hasn't been touched by her infectious smile and unconditional love. If only everyone could experience some time with my Gracie, I firmly believe the world would certainly be a better place. 

She’s a fighter and has been involved in the Special Olympics for the past six years. There hasn’t been an event that hasn't brought me to my knees crying with the overwhelming feeling of gratitude and pride. Watching these talented and fearless athletes interact with each other has been an endless life lesson for me. These beautiful people show each other unbridled compassion, joy, encouragement, all while entering a lifetime of friendships with each other. The Special Olympics is truly special.

Have you ever looked at the definition of “special”? I have. It’s defined as “better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual.” I don't know about you, but I don't want to be like everyone else; I want to be different, I want to be better, and I certainly want to be greater today than I was yesterday. My Gracie is different because she is truly special. 

When Gracie was only three months old doctors said that Gracie wouldn't make it through the night. Well, she must get her stubbornness from me because here we are 14 years later and she has proven all her doctors wrong! 

Having Gracie as my daughter has truly been a gift. She has made me a better person and given me the strength to work hard for what I want no matter what proverbial obstacles are in my way. While being her mother is absolutely the most rewarding "career" I could ever imagine, she inspires me to do more and to reach further than I ever thought possible. 

No one should feel bad for my daughter or myself. Instead, open your hearts and your minds to appreciate the incredible impact that my daughter has had on my life.

Needless to say all of us at Holton’s Heroes were moved by Gracie’s story of survival and wanted to help in some capacity. Holton’s Heroes gifted Gracie a brand new iPad with some accessories for her to use to communicate with the world around her. We were also able to offer her family a $2,000 grant to be used towards Gracie’s recovery and in-home therapy needs. Thank you to all of our donors that make gifts like this possible.

I have it updating and getting it all set up for her. Y’all are absolutely amazing! She’s going to be so happy.
— Amanda Carter, Gracie's mother

Gracie competes at the Special Olympics.