Madeline Stuart, an Australian model with Down syndrome, is on a mission to change the way we look at people with disabilities. The 21-year-old first broke the internet last year after becoming the world’s first professional model with Down syndrome to star in major fashion campaigns. She’s walked in a number of shows in New York, Paris, Los Angeles, and Denver during Fashion Week. And she launched her own clothing line dubbed 21 Reasons Why, which pays homage to her 21st extra chromosome, the genetic marker that makes her who she is. (Related: Mikayla Holmgren Becomes the First Person with Down Syndrome to Compete In Miss Minnesota USA)
When she’s not too busy having a blast and working hard, Madeline spends her time doing what she loves most (other than modeling, of course), and that’s working on her fitness. We had a chance to catch up with her and her mom, Rosanne Stuart, who told us that Madeline spends over an hour at the gym six days a week. “It’s the number-one thing she looks forward to every day,” Rosanne says. “The moment she walks into the gym, she gets 20 hugs and 20 high-fives. It’s basically her second home.” (Related: Woman Becomes America’s First Zumba Instructor with Down Syndrome)
Along with working one on one with a trainer, Madeline also dances and plays cricket and basketball. Being active didn’t always come naturally; in 2014 Madeline was 40 pounds heavier than she is today. In part, that was a result of being inactive and eating out all the time. But she also has three holes in her heart and a leaky valve, which, paired with her weight, gave her extreme shortness of breath.
Madeline knew that to get healthy, she’d need to make some lifestyle changes. That meant giving up her biggest guilty pleasure: McDonald’s. Madeline asked her mom to throw all the junk food out of the house and expressed her desire to start dance classes. “She’s loved dancing since she was a little girl and I couldn’t think of a better way to get her moving again,” Rosanne says. (Related: 5 Nutritionists’ Fast-Food Orders)
As she developed an interest in modeling, she hired a personal trainer and took up cardio, bodyweight training, lifting, HIIT, and boxing. She tracks her progress on Instagram, sharing videos of her training and posting motivational pictures. “Never enough hours in the day to keep my body healthy,” Madeline has previously shared on Instagram. (Related: How Much Exercise You Need Totally Depends On Your Goals)
Today, she feels more confident than ever and can often be seen flexing her muscles and showing off her gains. “She’s so proud of her progress and I really don’t think she’ll ever look back,” Rosanne says.