November 23, 2013 8:24:33 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
LeAnn Sanders Shelton firmly believes softball helped her overcome the loss of her left arm. The lawn mower accident that took it happened when she was 4. The Reform, Ala., native began playing ball at age 5. Softball gave Shelton challenges and hard knocks. But it also instilled in her discipline and dedication.
"It provided a passion for the game and gave me a reason to overcome my obstacles," said the 31-year-old, who competed on the diamond at Pickens County High School and in adult leagues until about two years ago. Her success and commitment were recently rewarded with induction into the Dixie Softball Hall of Fame Class of 2013. Dixie Softball, based in Birmingham, Ala., organizes hundreds of youth leagues in 11 Southern states, including Texas.
Shelton remembers getting the call from the organization's president and co-founder, James E. "Obie" Evans.
"I was shocked and humbled. It's such an incredible privilege," she said Wednesday. She insisted on sharing the accolade. "In any sport you play it takes more than just one person to achieve accomplishments. It takes a lot of encouragement, support and the love of family, friends, coaches and teammates, and I want to honor all of them."
Shelton was a four-year starter in high school, an all-star every year. She was a fast pitch pitcher, played outfield and was often high on the list for stolen bases. Her coach at the time, Lee Gibson, described her as a natural competitor.
"As a player I never saw myself as being disabled in the least," said Shelton, who lives in Reform with her husband, Jeremy. "Whatever my teammates did, I could do. It may have been a little different, but I got it done."
For years, softball was a constant. In fact, the only thing that could take LeAnn out of the game was motherhood. Today, the Shelton's lives revolve around 15-month-old Gunner Lake (yes, his name was inspired by their love of hunting and fishing). Days once filled with practices and games are now centered around picking up toys, changing diapers and "sweet love, love," said the young mom. "Now he's my reason for everything; he's like the crystal ball."
The physical tasks of parenting have been more challenging with one arm, she admitted, but "can't" has never been in Shelton's vocabulary.
"I've always been amazed at her many talents -- from shelling more peas than me as a child, to climbing her tree stand with her rifle and hunting gear, to changing diapers on Gunner Lake as an infant," her cousin Dana Moorhead posted on Facebook. "I have never seen anything that she could not do."
These days Shelton looks forward to one day passing on to her son a love of playing ball, as well as some of the life lessons she learned from it.
"That's what sports are all about -- it helps create a strong foundation for the type of person you will become later in life," she said. "Hopefully Gunner Lake will love it as much as I did."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.