RICHMOND, Va. -- As college semesters settle into their routines and habits across the Commonwealth, this Panera on the campus of the University of Mary Washington becomes a stop for regulars in between classes.
Rain or shine, packed or peaceful, there is one constant in this kitchen. The voice, presence and aura of Grace Anne Braxton.
"As soon as you come to work here, everybody knows Grace Anne. And they all talk about Grace Anne," Rose Benedict, UMW's dining concierge, said.
"She's just always brought so much life to the Panera area. Everyone just loves her so much, she's great to work with," Joshua Woodall, the manager at the Panera where Grace Anne works, said.
Grace Anne has become a fixture at Mary Washington. She's worked at different locations around campus but this job has become her favorite.
"I'm a cashier, sometimes I make drinks. Sometimes I make salads. And every once in a while, I make sandwiches," Grace Anne said.
She has become a favorite with the students who stop by.
"They're really friendly, nice, considerate and I like it. Someone asked me when I was younger if I'd rather work at a high school, college or hospital. I said college because I get to interact with the college students and it makes me feel like I'm part of their team," Grace Anne said.
Grace Anne is one of the biggest fans of the Mary Washington teams, especially basketball. And they share their love right back. Multiple times, they have voted her as their favorite university employee.
"I wish I had 10 more of her," Joshua said.
Grace Anne's disability is one of the first things some might notice about her, but it's quickly overshadowed by her ability.
"I was just blown away by all the things she accomplishes, all the things she's overcome in her life. Her attitude, her sunny disposition and the way she connects with people," Rose said.
Her abilities extend beyond the lunch counter as well. Although she didn't pick up the game until her late teens, Grace Anne has become one of the most accomplished golfers in Virginia.
"It's fun. I love playing golf. It gives me exercise, camaraderie and it just makes me feel good," Grace Anne said.
Grace Anne has represented Special Olympics Virginia around the globe, competing in Shanghai, Dublin, Los Angeles and Abu Dabi. She was recently selected to not only play in the first-ever Adaptive U.S. Open at Pinehurst but was chosen to hit the ceremonial first shot to kick off the tournament.
She won her division there and placed fourth overall, adding to her already impressive resume that not many might have predicted when she was younger.
"Throughout their life and many others, our athletes have been told, oh, they can't do that. She's taken those question marks behind really and made them exclamation points. So yeah, really! Maybe not this time, maybe not this way, but she doesn't give up," David Thomason, the president of Special Olympics Virginia, said.
Grace Anne does her best to spread that message to others who have yet to find their sport, outlet or method of expression.
Just making the attempt is the most important step.
"I just tell them, just try it. Just try a new sport. If they don't like it, try it again. Make sure they can learn," Grace Anne said.
"If I'm kind of having a bad day or I'm kind of thinking this is hard, I look at Grace Anne and think I can buck up. I can do better. Look at what Grace Anne is accomplishing and look at her attitude," Rose said.
"I learn from her every time I'm around her, something because of the way she lives her life, the way she continues to strive for her best and encouraging others is a really beautiful part of who Grace Anne Braxton is," David said.