WITHOUT LIMITS: THE RISE OF HANNIBAL CROSS COUNTRY RUNNER GRACIE DOUGLAS
Shortly after the two year old Gracie Douglas was first adopted from the former Soviet Union, one of her newly minted relatives quickly dubbed the energetic youngster "The Russian Rocket."
Fourteen years later, that moniker is proving more prophetic than anyone could have then imagined...as Gracie is one of the fastest rising cross country talents in America's Hometown.
Hannibal Cross Country Coach Charlie Newland: "As far as her rank on the girls team right now, she's probably in the Top Three Girls. She's improved leaps and bounds over from last year. It's just exciting to see the hard work she's put in is starting to pay off."
Megan Douglas, Gracie's Mother: "She's very determined and very persistent. And when they are not working out with the team, she's at the Y working out, or on the track, or running around town. And last year she figured out if she watched her diet and ate healthier, she would run faster too. She's just putting everything together and making good gains."
For a Sophomore to make this kind of splash in any Varsity sport, is rare. And while it is certainly fair to praise Gracie Douglas for both her precociousness and her seemingly inexhaustible stamina (and I mean truly, this girl never seems to get winded,) it is is a fierce competitive streak that serves as her outlier gift in Cross Country. Gracie simply is not about to let anyone beat her. Not another runner. And certainly not her Autism.
Megan Douglas: "I am unspeakably proud of what she has done. She has very hyper-sensitive hearing, so even just the sounds of being outside can be difficult for her at times. That was one of the things she had to overcome."
Charlie Newland: "One of the nice things about Gracie is that she really enjoys running. She is enthusiastic about running. The first words out of her mouth every morning are "when can I run?" And she's out of the gates and ready to go. And she's one of those few athletes that ask to run more. And typically I don't get that. Because its fun to be around a kid that enjoys the sport."
Megan Douglas: "I would have been proud of her if she came in last every race as long as she was participating. Then last year, in track, when she made such great gains during that season and started winning medals and she got that competition bug into her, it was really fun to watch her and see her start being competitive, rather than just finishing a race."
Charlie Newland: "Comparing Gracie this year to last year, she is in way better shape. Her confidence is up. We develop the kids, we try to develop them not as many miles Freshman and Sophomore years so as the years go by we will be able to increase the intensity and the volume of the workouts and we are looking forward to seeing what she can do. She has a lot of room for improvement and the sky is the limit."
Through running, Gracie Douglas has not only found her athletic muse, but the kind of socialization and camaraderie that Autism, by its very nature, works against.
Charlie Newland: "What makes our team special is that the kids care about each other. Our girls are very protective of each other, they look out for each other."
Megan Douglas: "She's doing things that other people can't do. And she's doing well at it."
Charlie Newland: "Gracie has developed some really good friendships over the last couple of years. Gracie's Mom has told me several times that Gracie will go home from a workout and talk about the girls on the team. And that she just looks forward to being with them the next day."
And Gracie has also developed her own signature tag line to every race; a question which she asks of all of her coaches and teammates.
Charlie Newland: "Did I do awesome today?"
Megan Douglas: "When a child is first diagnosed, I think it's kind of natural for a parent to go through almost a mourning of what your child won't be able to do. And then you have to re-channel that and start thinking about the things your child can do. And start really looking for those strengths and talents that your child does have and build on those..."