A Leader of All Abilities

Young Life is blessed with thousands upon thousands of amazing leaders doing noteworthy things both in and outside the mission. But every once in a while, a leader accomplishes something so special we simply can’t keep from celebrating it.

Meet Grace Seiboldt

She’s a 22-year-old phenom who recently returned from Abu Dhabi where she took home one gold and two silver medals in the Special Olympics World Games.

It’s been quite a year; in February, Seiboldt took part in the Olympic torch lighting ceremony at Soldier Field in Chicago (the location of the first Special Olympics). From there, the eternal flame traveled to Washington, D.C., where it boarded a plane (not sure how this passed TSA regulations) and flew to Abu Dhabi.

As part of the United States delegation, Seiboldt traveled there too. It was her first 15-hour flight, but she wasn’t scared. She was excited to be with her friends and meet swimmers from other countries (188 in all). “My best memory of the World Games was staying at the Grand Hyatt Hotel with my swim teammates,” she said.

However, Seiboldt wasn’t there to simply enjoy the amenities; she had come to compete. And compete she did: in the 50 meter, 100 meter, and 4x100 meter freestyle events, winning silver, gold and silver medals, respectively.

In her typical fashion, she was rather understated after she won. In response to an ESPN reporter’s question about her performance, she answered, after several seconds of complete silence, “I swam very fast.”

Her autism makes communication difficult. It is particularly hard if she is asked something on the spot. “Repetition makes it easier for me. Because of my autism, my challenges are a little harder to overcome sometimes,” said Seiboldt, via email.

“I want people to understand that even though I have autism, if I work hard enough, I can do anything. Having an intellectual disability means I have to try harder to prove to people that I am as strong as any of my peers.”

Seiboldt doesn’t have to do much more to prove her mettle. After the Olympics, she returned home to a hero’s welcome. In April, the mayor of Naperville, Illinois, made a special proclamation, declaring April 16 Grace Seiboldt Day.

This summer, she’ll be competing for her 13th gold medal in a row at the Special Olympics State Championship. In addition to swimming, Seiboldt will also compete in unified soccer, basketball, softball, golf, volleyball, and track and field (where she earned a gold in the 800 meter at Districts).

In the fall, she’ll be attending the College of DuPage, Junior College Coach Program.

Oh, and she’ll also become a Young Life Capernaum leader!

All In!

Eli Margaron has been the Capernaum coordinator the last five years in Naperville and its surrounding areas. Club takes place every other week. “It’s a beautiful blend of kids, adult leaders, college leaders, high school leaders, able-bodied leaders and leaders of all abilities,” said Margaron.

Seiboldt has been an active participant since her freshman year in high school. “Grace really has a presence about her. She always has a smile on her face, always is willing to do whatever is happening. Her work ethic and willingness really stand out,” said Margaron.

Whether it’s the biweekly club or Bible study, Seiboldt doesn’t miss. She has attended multiple trips to Young Life’s Timber Wolf Lake camp in Michigan and Polar Bear weekend camps in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

“My best memories about Young Life camp are staying in the cabin, playing games and basketball in the game room, playing in the beach, water inflatables, tubing, obstacle course, the hoedown, volleyball, go-karts, zip lining, doing the ropes course, going on the giant swing, having field day, hanging out with my friends and Bible study after dinner,” she said.

Seiboldt has also served on work crew and summer staff twice. “My best memories about work crew are doing housekeeping, emptying the garbage, going on runs, washing and folding laundry, folding towels, stripping beds, working with my new summer crewmates and welcoming all the new campers.”

“Grace really made an impact on her peers,” said Margaron. “Whether she is working or playing, she expresses joy in everything she does. She demonstrates that folks with special needs can do anything. She made such a positive impression on her summer staff coworkers that many decided to go back to their areas to become Capernaum leaders.”

Seiboldt didn’t stop training while serving at Young Life camp. In her free time, she ran with the summer staff and swam laps in Timber Wolf Lake!

Learning Through Leading

“It is beautiful to think that she started as a student in our program and has grown to become a leader,” said Margaron.

“In the beginning, I didn’t know I wanted to become a leader,” said Seiboldt, “but when Eli asked me, I said yes.

“I’m learning to see myself as a role model. This is a new experience, and I am really looking forward to the future,” continued Seiboldt. “I hope people will see I am learning to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.”

“That is the story of Young Life Capernaum’s ministry. It is a place where everyone is included and everyone has an opportunity to grow and lead. We welcome the furthest out and then invite them to be a part of it,” said Margaron.

“Grace isn’t the only one. Students from Naperville have gone on to serve or even start Capernaum in other parts of the country,” she continued.

“The ministry of Capernaum is really doing the heart of what God wants, which is to see people for who they’re created to be in His image,” said Matt Margaron, Eli’s husband. “We’re giving the community the opportunity to see people the way Jesus sees people.

“Grace is such a good example. She doesn’t see any limitation that can’t be overcome. When she faces obstacles, she just bowls right through them. Because of her willingness, Grace can serve in any capacity in our mission.”

Margaron added, “It’s so important that we, as the body of Christ, make sure to offer the same opportunities and share the same experiences with every person, no matter who they are or what their ability is.”

Leadership of all abilities is what the Margarons like to call it. Grace Seiboldt certainly has a bunch of these — whether that be winning another gold or folding another towel. In the grand scheme of things, who knows which is more valuable?