COLUMBUS (WCMH) – The 2020 Paralympic Games begin Aug. 24, so athletes are making their way to Tokyo this week.

One Ohio native and Cedarville University graduate is heading back to the games to defend the gold medal she won in Rio in the paratriathlon.

“The Paralympics is the biggest stage that I can compete on,” said Paralympian Grace Norman, who won her gold medal in the 2016 Paralympic Games at just 18 years old.

“Obviously, going back to the Paralympics to defend that title is the goal,” she added.

Norman’s journey toward that goal started in Jamestown, Ohio. She was born with congenital constriction band syndrome, a condition causing doctors to amputate her left leg from the knee down.

“I went to a small Christian school and there was no one really like me that I had ever seen before, you know, that had a prosthetic limb, and I grew up not really knowing any Paralympic athletes,” Norman said.

She attended the U.S. Paralympic Trials as a spectator in 2012, an experience she said ignited a dream.

“And I saw people like me, and I was immediately inspired,” Norman said. “I was able to talk with some of the athletes, and that really sparked my interest and my fire to become a Paralympian.”

Before Rio, she ran track and cross-country at Cedarville University, where she graduated in 2020 with a nursing degree.

“I loved my time at Cedarville University,” Norman said. “It was really nice to be close to home and have that support system.”

Norman now trains in Southbend, Indiana, with her new coach, Greg Mueller, as they prepare for the Tokyo Games.

“Her degree of fitness is at a very high level for someone who has both feet, so if she competed in a local triathlon, she might very likely win that event,” Mueller said.

Norman understands she’ll have to dig even deeper within herself to win gold again in the paratriathlon.

“Going into Tokyo, it is a lot harder to stay on top,” she said. “Once you achieve that, you kind of get a big target on her back.”

Even though her family won’t be able to attend the games this year, Norman said she’s grateful for their support back home in Ohio as she aims for gold.

“Raising that bar, digging into your limiters, weaknesses is what I had to do and what I have to do, so I guess we’ll see how much that pays off in Tokyo,” Norman said with a laugh.