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By Gina Cherelus
NEW YORK (Reuters) 

Rosanne Stuart recalls attending an annual fashion parade with her daughter, Madeline, in their hometown of Brisbane, Australia, in 2015. In the midst of the high-energy glamour on the runway, Madeline, who has limited speech, turned to her mother and firmly announced that she would like to be a model

Stuart, 46, who described her daughter as the kind of tomboy who would slip on a pair leggings and “throw football with the guys,” said that it was not something she had expected from Madeline, but she immediately supported her.

 

The Wider Image: Model with Down's syndrome makes strides worldwide
Model Madeline Stuart, who has Down’s syndrome, stands amongst models backstage after walking in the Burning Guitars presentation during New York Fashion Week in New York City, U.S., September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

 

More than four years later, Madeline, now 21, is the first person with Down’s syndrome to ever stride down a runway as a model during New York Fashion Week. With more than 60 catwalks under her belt in cities including London, Paris and Dubai, Madeline’s disability has not appeared to be a hindrance.

“When she walked that first catwalk every single person in the audience appreciated her,” Stuart said. “It truly was the first time she was accepted.”

 

The Wider Image: Model with Down's syndrome makes strides worldwide
Model Madeline Stuart (R) walks through Times Square with her mother and manager Rosanne Stuart in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

 

Madeline’s drive has not let up this year. She just finished strutting down the runway for seven designers during the 2018 New York Fashion Week and is continuing the fashion circuit to walk for seven more designers during 2018 London Fashion Week.

The fashion world more recently has embraced nontraditional models who are not typically white and thin. From top magazines to designers, more women of different races, sizes and abilities are being hired for runway and print work.

 

The Wider Image: Model with Down's syndrome makes strides worldwide
Model Madeline Stuart, who has Down’s syndrome, prepares backstage of the Soiree show at London Fashion Week Women’s in London, Britain, September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

 

“I must say, I think things are getting a lot better, especially for Madeline,” Stuart said.

Like most models, Madeline starts off her day with a healthy breakfast then proceeds to her outfit fittings, gets her strawberry blonde hair and make-up done and prepares for her next runway appearance.

 

 

By lunchtime, Madeline is enjoying her favorite meal: a grilled chicken wrap. Madeline has this every single day, according to Stuart.

“If they don’t have a chicken wrap, she may have a chicken sandwich but she really doesn’t want to. She wants to have a wrap,” Stuart said.

 

The Wider Image: Model with Down's syndrome makes strides worldwide
Model Madeline Stuart, who has Down’s syndrome, is prepared backstage before the Colleen Morris Presentation of the Spring/Summer 2019 collection during London Fashion Week in London, Britain, September 15, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

 

Between her shows, Madeline is usually curled up with her iPad, surfing the web or video-chatting for hours with her boyfriend Robbie, who also has an intellectual disability. They met during Special Olympic games in Australia more than four years ago.

 

DEALING WITH DISABILITY

When Madeline was born, her mother, then 26, said doctors told her that her daughter had Down’s and would not mature to the age of 7. Stuart, who is a building surveyor and her daughter’s full-time manager, said she was determined to give her a chance at a normal life.

 

he Wider Image: Model with Down's syndrome makes strides worldwide
Model Madeline Stuart, who has Down’s syndrome, prepares backstage of the Soiree show at London Fashion Week Women’s in London, Britain, September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

 

“When you have a baby, everyone is expected to say, ‘congratulations,'” said Stuart, who is a single parent. “But when you say you have a child with Down’s syndrome they don’t say congratulations, they go, ‘oh I’m sorry.'”

Before pursuing modeling, Madeline was struggling with being overweight, an experience that Rosanne says many people with Down’s syndrome face. Madeline expressed an interest in getting in shape because of a heart condition and her overall health.

 

The Wider Image: Model with Down's syndrome makes strides worldwide
Model Madeline Stuart stands backstage before walking in the Burning Guitars runway show during New York Fashion Week, New York, U.S., September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

 

“She lost weight before she started modeling, before she was even thinking about modeling because of the holes in her heart,” Stuart said. “It just so happens that when she lost the weight, and went to the fashion show, and then we got these photos done, it sort of just all happened.”

Stuart in 2015 uploaded photos of Madeline’s weight loss on social media to encourage other people with disabilities. The post quickly went viral, earning more than 7.2 million online views in a week and news coverage in about 150 countries, Stuart said. Within a month, South African fashion designer Hendrik Vermeulen asked Madeline to model in his New York Fashion Week show, marking the beginning of her modeling career.

 

The Wider Image: Model with Down's syndrome makes strides worldwide
Model Madeline Stuart, who has Down’s syndrome, poses for photographs with her mother Rosanne, while sightseeing in Trafalgar Square in London, Britain, September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls.

 

Stuart said that a few critics in the disability community have implied that she is pushing Madeline to pursue modeling, calling her a “dance mom.” But the mother says that those who think modeling is not Madeline’s choice do not know anything about Down’s syndrome.

“People with Down’s syndrome have a very, very strong will and can be super stubborn,” Stuart said. “If Madeline did not want to catwalk she would just sit on the end of the catwalk and wouldn’t walk.”

 

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

 

The Wider Image: Model with Down's syndrome makes strides worldwide
Model Madeline Stuart sits at the Remedy Diner with her mother and manager Rosanne Stuart after walking in a runway show during New York Fashion Week in New York City, U.S., September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

 

The Wider Image: Model with Down's syndrome makes strides worldwide
Model Madeline Stuart, who has Down’s syndrome, looks through a window as her mother is interviewed by journalist Jamie Feldman about Madeline’s modelling career at the HuffPost office in Manhattan during New York Fashion Week in New York City, U.S., September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

 

The Wider Image: Model with Down's syndrome makes strides worldwide
Rosanne Stuart attempts to cover her daughter, model Madeline Stuart, from falling rain as they walk to a show during New York Fashion Week in New York City, U.S., September 9, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

 

 

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