Kentucky Christian’s Katelyn Pavey lives a powerful story of redemption
By John Herndon, 110forChrist
GRAYSON, Ky. – When Katelyn Pavey stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning, Kentucky Christian’s hope for a comeback seemed more distant than the mountains overlooking the Grayson Sports Park.
It was April Fool’s Day and the Knights softball team trailed conference foe Reinhardt, 6-4, with no one on base and two outs. In the circle for Reinhardt was Bella Krauth, one of the Appalachian Athletic Conference’s stingiest pitchers, boasting a sub-3.00 ERA in league play.
Somehow, Pavey stayed alive. She dug in. She fouled off a couple of pitches. And with the count at 3-2, she watched as Brauth just missed the strike zone. The next two batters, Emma Ball and Kaytlin Leyvas, both doubled, tying things at 6 and giving KCU extra innings for another chance.
Two frames later, after Reinhardt manufactured a run in the top of the ninth, it was Pavey stepping to the plate again, this time sending a rocket up the middle for a leadoff single. It started yet another rally culminating when KCU’s Erica Vain ripped a walk-off single to right for an 8-7 win in the first game of a doubleheader. Pavey had worked her way around the bases, scoring the tying run when Reinhardt misplayed Leyvas’ ground ball.
“That’s just KP,” Leyvas smiled. “She never gives up and plays until the last out. That’s just her and it’s what she does.”
It’s just what Katelyn Pavey does and who she is. Her mindset is simply, “I can.”
“I can” bat leadoff in college softball. As of April 8, Pavey was hitting .425, leading the KCU hitters and good enough for the fourth spot in the AAC. Her on-base percentage, .540, tops the league.
“I can” be a game-changing base runner. So far in 2022, she’s scored 26 runs in 26 games despite missing a couple of contests with a hamstring injury. On the basepaths, she’s perfect in 8 stolen base attempts, bringing her college career totals to 31 thefts in 34 attempts.
“I can” be a difference-making centerfielder. Against Reinhardt, Pavey roamed large amounts of real estate, recording eight putouts in two games. While her throwing arm wasn’t challenged this day, KCU coach Cory Gardner smiles as he describes her weapon as “very strong.”
She can beat you in so many ways that it could be easy to miss the fact that Katelyn Pavey only has full use of one arm.
Read that again. Kentucky Christian’s Katelyn Pavey excels in college softball but only has full use of one arm.
And, truthfully, you really can’t miss seeing that a congenital condition gave Pavey a left arm that was not fully formed along with two small digits instead of a fully formed hand. You can’t miss it because she does so many things so well.
“I don’t mention it,” Pavey says of her condition. “I don’t see myself as any different from others.”
To one looking in from the outside, that would seem odd as Pavey plays with what most would see as a handicap of the nature and magnitude that an “I can’t” would be understandable and expected.
But “I can” literally became part of Katelyn’s mindset from day one.
“When she was born, the nurse at the University of Louisville hospital said, ‘I want to prepare you for this,’” says Katelyn’s father, Eric Pavey. “I looked at her and I saw what looked like a chicken wing, but I thought, ‘She has one arm? I can handle that!’”
And as Katelyn grew up in Lanesville, Indiana, just west of Louisville, things were about as normal as could be for a girl with one arm. Eric bought Katelyn a velcro glove and she soon learned to catch a ball, then quickly remove the glove to throw. Her parents signed Katelyn up for tee ball and recreation league softball. When she showed some prowess at the game, travel softball became part of the Pavey family’s summer.
“My dad told me to never say ‘I can’t’ because I can do all things through Christ,” Katelyn says. “That’s my motto.”
Eventually, at Lanesville High School, where her father was coaching, Katelyn became a four-year starter and the Most Valuable Player of the Southern Athletic Conference. She earned first team all-state recognition and was named one of the recipients of the Courier-Journal Courage Award in 2017. Along the way, Lanesville upset defending Class 1A state champion Borden to claim the sectional crown.
Everything pointed to Katelyn CAN play college softball. But …
“Recruiting was hard for me,” Katelyn remembers. “I would go to camps and would hear a lot of college coaches say, ‘I’d love to have you, but …”
There was no doubt about her talent, but…
Always, the but.
“But I don’t know how to coach a girl with one arm.”
“But I don’t know how my team would react to a girl with one arm.”
Cory Gardner saw things differently. At the time, he was having some success in building a fledgling program at Cincinnati Christian University and was out recruiting one day. “We were at a showcase and I was watching some other players,” says Gardner, who has been at Kentucky Christian since 2020. “My assistant coach came to me and said, ‘You have to see this girl play!’
“I was watching (Katelyn) and saw that she had one arm, but her transfer time from glove to the throw was as quick as anyone else. I saw how hard she hustles and I saw how she uplifts everyone around her.”
And Gardner knew Katelyn Pavey could play at CCU.
“When I met Coach Gardner, he looked past my disability, if you want to call it that. I don’t call it a disability,” Katelyn says. “But he looked past that and said, ‘I don’t care if you have one arm or no arms. If you can play ball, you can play ball.”
Katelyn can do just that, using her right hand to deliver a solid swing from the left side of the plate.
But Gardner was about to see Katelyn’s “I Can” grow exponentially.
CCU was in a scrimmage just before the first game of the 2018 season. “I hit a ball and tried to beat it out. I tore my ACL,” Katelyn remembers. “So there went my freshman season.”
But Gardner recalls, “When the doctor told her the rehab would be nine months, she was back in six.”
When Katelyn returned for her redshirt freshman season she cracked the starting lineup, but like most freshmen she faced an adjustment to the college game, especially the speed at which college pitchers can throw. She started 40 of CCU’s 44 games, hitting .298 with 8 doubles and 21 RBI.
Then in preparation for her redshirt sophomore year, adversity hit again. “We were getting ready to play and in mid-October, we get an email saying CCU was going to close,” Katelyn says.
The school had been having issues with its accrediting agency and decided to cease operations at the end of 2019. While college closures are not unheard of, doing so at the middle of the school year created the unexpected stress of finding a new school quickly.
“My thoughts were, ‘Am I ever going to play softball again? Where am I going to go?’” Katelyn says.
Pavey ended up about 90 miles south of Cincinnati at Midway University, quickly cracking the starting lineup and hitting .322 with a home run in 19 games before the COVID pandemic shut things down.
Meanwhile, Gardner had been without a job for about three months but when the Kentucky Christian job came open, he was jumped at the chance to coach just 30 minutes from his hometown of Morehead, Ky.
“When CCU closed, I knew I would eventually get back into coaching somewhere,” Gardner says. “One thing I kept thinking was how much fun it was to coach Katelyn Pavey.”
One of Gardner’s former CCU players, Kathryn Schreiber, was already at KCU and had stayed in contact with Pavey and quickly let her former teammate that Gardner was now in Grayson.
“I jumped on that email and told him I wanted to play for him again,” Pavey smiles.
And Gardner was happy to oblige. “That was a no-brainer,” he says.
So far in 2022, Kentucky Christian is standing at 15-13 on the year and shooting for its first winning season 2016. And it doesn’t take long to see the impact “KP” is having on the program. She graduated last spring with a degree in business, emphasizing sports management, but with the ACL injury giving her a redshirt year and COVID giving another, she’s just a junior in eligibility. Pavey looks to earn a master’s degree in Christian Leadership in 2023.
Schreiber has been with Pavey on her journey since they arrived at Cincinnati Christian together. “Her personality is the same as it was but she has definitely grown as a leader,” Schreiber says. “Her faith is a big part of her and she is going to use that through softball.”
Even if Pavey’s remarkable story ended on a softball field in Grayson, Ky., it would be an inspiration. But Tyler Sansom, a member of the staff at Katelyn’s home church, First Capital Christian in Corydon, Ind., saw Katelyn’s story as an opportunity to share the gospel through a movie.
Sansom, now the lead pastor at First Capital Christian, had played football at KCU and had already made a film, “A Father’s Flight.” He approached the Paveys about making a film.
“Katelyn is a great kid. Her ability to overcome obstacles is truly impressive,” Sansom said in an email.
But originally Katelyn said, “No, we are not making a movie about me. I didn’t think I was worthy and didn’t think my past was good enough. I had made mistakes and I didn’t want to be put on a pedestal.
“But the more I prayed about it and the more I talked to my family, our goal for this and my goal is if I can reach one person and inspire one person and can do something to help others follow Jesus, then I will do it. This is going to be a redemption story about me and my family. It’s a redemption story that starts before I was conceived and the adversity that hit my family and the adversity as I was growing up and in softball.”
The movie is appropriately called, “I Can.”
Sansom, who says he is very close to and teaches a Bible study with Katelyn’s father, explains, “What drew me to her family’s story is the redemption arc that was on display in her parents’ lives. Katelyn was born out of an affair and her father carried serious guilt, believing that his sins led to her disability. I wanted to tell the story of how God redeems even the worst circumstances and uses them for His glory.
“I hope that someone who has been weighed down with the guilt of their past sins can learn that there is hope in Jesus through watching that very scenario play out within the Pavey family on the big screen. We got to see a lot of lives changed and even around 30 baptisms from our last film so I hope that the impact is even greater with this one!”
And just like starting a game-winning rally, that’s just KP.
“Our goal is to just help others follow Jesus,” she says. “I don’t think I am any different than anybody else. Yes, I have one arm, but there are other people, other stories that I thought are better than mine,” Katelyn says. “But I am trying to inspire people. I don’t play for myself. I play for God. He gave me the talents and the abilities so I am going to use them to glorify Him.
“I have an acronym for ‘I can’t.’ It’s Continue Adapting, Never Turning back. You continue adapting to every adversity. You never turn back.”
I Can Movie to start filming this summer
Tyler Sansom, the producer and director of the “I Can” movie, says the success of his last project, “A Father’s Fight,” has opened doors for the success of a movie based on Katelyn Pavey and her family overcoming many adversities.
“A Father’s Flight” had a limited theatrical run and is available on several streaming services, including Amazon Prime Video, Tubi, Pluto TV and Salem Now. Sansom says he hopes to use that same model for “I Can.”
Danner Brown will be playing Katelyn in the movie. Kentucky Christian softball coach Cory Gardner says he is to be an extra in the film.
“God has blessed this project with a much larger budget than our past film and also connections with the folks who make ‘The Chosen,’ so our reach should be significantly larger than the last project,” Sansom says. “Due to the unexpected success of ‘A Father’s Fight,’ we were actually able to bring on some Hollywood talent for this project, including, Vernon Wells (Mad Max 2, Commando, Weird Science), Joe Estevez (Apocalypse Now), and Cameron Arnett (Overcomer, I Still Believe).”
Sansom says former University of Georgia and Miami football coach Mark Richt is to appear in the film.
“We are hoping that these additions will help us spread our reach as well.”