Amazing Grace

Standout Golden grad touches many lives

Posted 6/1/16

Grace Zitoli loves to sing and dance. She has won art awards for her paintings and reads “National Geographic.” She loves chocolate and 7-Up.

And she has donated 10 inches of her hair to Locks of Love three times.

“Every day with her is …

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Amazing Grace

Standout Golden grad touches many lives

Posted

Grace Zitoli loves to sing and dance. She has won art awards for her paintings and reads “National Geographic.” She loves chocolate and 7-Up.

And she has donated 10 inches of her hair to Locks of Love three times.

“Every day with her is a miracle,” Grace’s mom, Laurie Zitoli, said. “She’s just amazing to me. In her mind, she can do anything.”

Grace has Down syndrome, has had two open heart surgeries and survives because of a pacemaker. When Grace was 4 years old, doctors said she wasn’t going to live long.

But Grace is a fighter.

She turned 19 on May 3. And through all of it, her twin brother, Joe, has been by her side.

“I feel protective over her,” said Joe — even though, he joked, he is the younger one by two minutes. He can always sense when she’s scared or sad.

And Grace said, “He takes care of me.”

In Laurie Zitoli’s opinion, Joe is an amazing son and brother.

“They’re so different, but they’ve always had that connection,” she said. “He never treated her any differently.”

The Zitoli twins graduated together from Golden High School on May 20.

Watching the two of them at graduation was exciting and heartwarming, said Tyler Griffin, a neighbor of the Zitolis who grew up with Grace and Joe.

“I’m a big part of their lives,” said Griffin, 16, a junior at Golden High School, “and they’re a big part of mine.”

Griffin likes the way Joe interacts with Grace. “He’s a really good brother,” he said.

Joe has been accepted to several colleges, but is waiting to hear back from a few more before deciding where to go now that he has graduated high school. He is hoping to be awarded a scholarship for baseball.

“I love baseball,” said Joe, who began playing T-ball when he was 4 years old. He’s an outfielder and designated hitter. “It’s my passion.”

Grace will be attending Warren Tech next year, and as she continues beyond high school, her teaching aid Le Shoemaker, a paraprofessional at Golden High School, doesn’t doubt that Grace will be successful.

“She has a shining spirit,” Shoemaker said. “She will be bringing her spirit with her to a new set of friends and experiences.”

People enjoy her great sense of humor and her “happy-go-lucky” personality, she added.

Luke Carruthers, Joe’s baseball teammate, has known Joe and Grace since their freshmen year.

“It’s been a beneficial friendship,” he said of his relationship with Joe and opportunity to get to know Grace.

He has gained a lot of insight and understanding about Down syndrome, he said, and whenever he had any questions, he could ask Joe.

Grace met her best friend, Emmy Adams, two years ago when the two had a unified physical education class together. Unified physical education classes are designed to provide students with a firm grasp on basic sports skills an opportunity to work with peers with intellectual and/or physical disabilities, according to the World of Special Olympics blog.

“I met her and immediately fell in love with her,” Adams, a 16-year-old sophomore, said. “Everybody needs a Gracie in their life — someone who reminds them how wonderful life is.”

The two ate lunch together every day, and their “thing,” Adams said, is singing “Frozen” duets together.

Grace sang in the high school choir for four years, and because Grace enjoys dancing and performing so much, Adams thought Grace should join the Golden High School cheer team.

“I think she was just born to be a cheerleader,” Adams said. “She’s always upbeat and happy.”

Joe’s girlfriend, Sydney Infante, believes the way Grace and Joe cares for each other is great characteristic of their personalities.

“I’ve never met twins like them,” she said. “They have a special bond. They’d do anything for each other.”

And the twins enjoy spending time together. Sometimes they will go shopping or out to a restaurant. Often, they combine their interests to do things together — Grace will play catch with Joe, and Joe will dance with Grace.

And, of course, Joe attends his sister’s choir recitals, and Grace attends her brother’s baseball games.

“Having a twin is amazing,” Joe said. “It’s something no one else can understand — unless you’re a twin.”

Grace Zitoli, Down syndrome, Golden, GHS, Class of 2016, twins, cheerleading, Christy Steadman

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