From Iowa to Houston: A Young Champion Delivers Medals To Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital

By Evan Koch

Gracie stepped down from the front seat of Spring Fire Department (SFD) engine No. 78 with pleasant conviction upon her arrival at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. The 11-year-old had just traveled more than 900 miles from Ankeny, Iowa, to Houston, Texas, to make a very special delivery.

Flanked by her mother, Kelly Lindaman, several SFD members and a suitcase filled with more than 200 medals, including a few dozen of her own, Gracie was on a mission to lift the spirits of pediatric patients at the hospital.

“I know some kids may not be able to do some of the things I can right now because they’re in the hospital,” Gracie said. “But they are champions in their own way.”

Gracie is a frequent visitor to the winner’s podium. She has earned countless medals from swimming, running and triathlon competitions, including a third-place medal at the USA Triathlon Youth and Junior National Championships in August.

But Gracie’s kind heart and generous spirit are as prolific as her promising athletic prowess.

“Gracie is passionate about triathlons but she also loves children and wants to do great things,” Lindaman said.

Recognizing greatness

Soon after watching the inspiring story behind We Finish Together, a Florida-based non-profit that collects medals from people and donates them to others facing challenges beyond the competitive arena, Gracie told her mom she wanted to donate the medals she had won in competition.

“Gracie went through all her medals and her dad even asked ‘Are you sure you want to give away that one? You worked really hard for that one,’” Lindaman said. ‘”Without a doubt,’ Gracie said, ‘I want to give away as many as I can.’ We’re really proud of her.”

Inspired by SFD’s epic visit to Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in August, We Finish Together sent the box of medals Gracie donated to SFD with the hope it would be delivered to the hospital. The box arrived on Sept. 11.

Touched by the gesture, SFD Communications Director Tracee Evans reached out to We Finish Together to say thank you and to find the person who had sent the medals.

She found Gracie.

Gathering more medals for a long journey

Once the Lindamans discovered where Gracie’s medals were destined, the family reached out to friends in the triathlon and swimming communities around her hometown of Ankeny to collect more. Their community responded with more than 300 medals.

In the meantime, Evans continued her dialogue with Lindaman and raised the prospect of delivering the medals to the hospital personally. After months working around travel logistics, Gracie’s competition schedule and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital’s schedule, SFD arranged for Gracie to fly to Houston the first weekend of December.

On Dec. 2, Gracie and her mom boarded a plane with a carry-on case full of medals to begin their journey to Houston. After some VIP treatment from SFD—including a view of the sunset perched in a fireman’s bucket—Gracie and Lindaman spent much of their evening tagging medals with hand-written notes.

The messages from Gracie and others are simple but powerful:

Know that you are loved.

Every day may not be good. But there is good in every day.

Never stop believing that something wonderful will happen.

Don’t give up because of a bad chapter in your life. Your story doesn’t end here.

Delivering the messages (and medals)

The next morning, Gracie, an aspiring pediatrician, arrived in grand fashion at the gateway to the largest medical center in the world.  She visited hospital rooms on two different floors, placing medals around the necks of pediatric patients.

Some patients were astonished. Others were speechless. All were pleasantly surprised.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Gracie said of her visit. “It’s made me want to do more knowing how it impacts them because I saw their smiles. It makes me really happy to see them like that.”

Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital’s Director of Child Life and Expressive Therapies Alyssa Luksa and her staff work with patients and families every day to cope with whatever challenges they are facing and to help enrich their stay at the hospital.

“Gracie’s visit was incredible,” Luksa said. “It is hard to express what it means for patients and their families to know that someone outside of this hospital is thinking of them and that person wants to visit them and see how they are doing. It really does make a difference.”

Gracie’s presence will be felt long after she and Lindaman departed for Iowa. Luksa and her staff will continue to hand out the remaining medals to patients and families.

And the 100-plus medals that didn’t make the trip to Houston? Gracie is planning to give them and whatever others she can collect to her local children’s hospital in Iowa.

Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital has one message for Gracie, Lindaman, the Spring Fire Department and We Finish Together:

On behalf of our patients, visitors, staff and affiliated physicians, THANK YOU for making a difference.

Learn more about Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital.

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