A grand slam story reaching far beyond the foul lines

Katelyn Pavey takes a cut during the second game of Kentucky Christian’s doubleheader with Reinhardt on April 1.

By John Herndon, 110forChrist.com

Life-changing moments usually just grab you when they are least expected. And when they do, it’s sometimes amazing to reflect on how God used events to put you in the path of something that can change you, impact you and push one to serve in greater ways.

Those moments force a serious evaluation of commitments, priorities, and self-expectations. And most of all, those moments open your eyes to how great God is and how He uses little things to make a profound impact.

Kentucky Christian University outfielder Katelyn Pavey. (All photos by John Herndon)

Such was the case when I traveled to Grayson, Ky., recently to talk with Kentucky Christian University softball player Katelyn Pavey. I didn’t know much about Katelyn other than what her coach, Cory Gardner, had told me in an email. I made the 120-mile one-way trip on April 1, thinking Gardner had given me an opportunity to craft a nice story about a player who had overcome some significant adversity.

Katelyn was born with only one arm fully developed. And at the end of her shortened left arm, a couple of fingers are visible. It’s the kind of story that can inspire anyone simply on the angle of overcoming a disability, and those kinds of stories are always interesting and can prompt people to be more motivated and persistent in everyday life. Those stories are always special and I enjoy working them.

(A side note: In over 35 years of writing, I have typed out numerous stories about people in the sports world overcoming a sickness, injury or disability. One thing I have learned is that people with a disability rarely see the condition as a major hindrance. And that was Katelyn Pavey. One of the first things she said in our interview was, “I don’t see myself as different from others.”)

Katelyn Pavey talks with first base coach Steve Vanover after drawing a two-out walk that started a game-tying rally in the first game against Reinhardt on April 1.

Little did I know what I was in for when I attended my first KCU softball game on April 1.  The Knights were taking on Appalachian Athletic Conference rival Reinhardt in a double-header – they would split that Friday afternoon – and, just as I expected, Katelyn was overcoming adversity. What I wasn’t expecting was a complete mastery of a condition that would stop many before they started. And I certainly wasn’t expecting the exclamation point punctuating Katelyn’s victory over adversity.

I wasn’t expecting to see Katelyn hitting leadoff and batting over .400. And I certainly wasn’t expecting to see someone with one arm ignite a game-winning rally with a rocket shot single up the middle in the ninth inning of game one.Pavey eventually scored the tying run on a Reinhardt error.

“That’s common,” Gardner would say of that ninth-inning missile. “She is really good at line drives and she finds a way to get the ball in play.”

I mentioned my surprise to Pavey’s teammate, Kaytlin Leyvas, who had played Division I softball at Grand Canyon University before transferring to KCU. “I love it when she puts it over their heads,” Leyvas said with a big smile. “She is so strong and it shows what she can do.”

Indeed.

Kentucky Christian’s Kaytlin Leyvas rips a during the Knight’s seventh-inning rally against Reinhardt on April 1.

Pavey recalled how her father, Eric, encouraged her as she started playing sports. “Growing up, my dad told to never say, ‘I Can’t,’ because I can do all things through Christ,” she said. “I like the failure of (softball). You are going to fail more than you will succeed and that is just like in life. Adversity hits at any moment.  Adversity hit me as soon as I was born. I just like to overcome adversity and try to get better.”

But Katelyn’s game goes beyond smacking line drives and tracking down fly balls. Watching a KCU game, it becomes quite clear that she is one of the team leaders. It’s not a rah-rah type, but an infectious enthusiasm and can-do spirit.

And on April 1, it was apparent that God is using a college softball player to convey that message. “What drives her is she comes out here to glorify God every day,” Leyvas said. “She is just a great person to be around.”

KCU business professor Dean Brand agreed. “To put it plainly, KP is an impressive person. I’ve actually only had her in one class, but do talk to her every time I see her otherwise. She always has a smile on her face. You just get the sense that she’s a leader, more one of example than force.”

With Kentucky Christian coach Cory Gardner urging her on, Katelyn Pavey rounds third with the tying run in the bottom of the ninth against Reinhardt on April 1. KCU would go on to win, 8-7.

And for Christians, whether in athletics or any other endeavor, that makes the difference in conveying the good news of Jesus Christ. A movie, called “I Can” is being made about Katelyn and her family’s redemption through Christ being played out on the softball field, but it’s more than just a story of overcoming adversity. It’s a story of true redemption made possible by the power of Jesus Christ and His grace.

“I Can” is one of those projects undertaken with the goal of leading someone else to Christ or helping someone in his walk with Jesus. It’s a real story of redemption that goes far beyond the foul lines. And for a Christian, that should be the goal in everything, whether on the athletic field, in the classroom, in the pulpit (like me), working in business or anything else. Thanks Katelyn, for being that witness and inspiration to remind us it’s more than just overcoming adversity. You made a profound impact on a veteran writer/preacher by naturally shining the light Christ put in your life story.

HOW WE LEARNED ABOUT THE KATELYN PAVEY STORY

Usually, we learn of stories for 110forChrist when a coach or fellow media member who knows our mission will make a suggestion and share why it’s a good story.  Sometimes we reach out after learning about some superlatives in the news or watching a game and follow up. It’s standard journalism work.

But there was nothing standard about how we learned about Katelyn Pavey and we fully believe God had a hand in things.

Kentucky Christian’s Erica Vain slashes the walk-off single in the first game of the Knights’ doubleheader with Reinhardt on April 1.

It started last summer when I was asked to write the Kentucky Christian basketball preview for The Cats’ Pause Basketball Yearbook. Even though TCP has been previewing KCU for years, I was doing so for the first time and having some trouble getting information. 

(That’s really not unusual with small colleges in the summertime as coaches and sports information people are not around as much. And it’s especially true when a new guy is on the scene as he may not know the correct channels to go through at different schools. It happens more than most people would realize.)

Finally, I reached out to softball coach Cory Gardner, who was listed on the KCU website as the  school’s acting athletic director. He took care of me and offered to help with anything else. And seeing in Gardner’s bio that he had coached at Cincinnati Christian University, I mentioned that I had a Master’s degree from there and we acknowledged our connection and our disappointment that CCU had closed and hoped to reconnect some day.

In the fall, I headed up to KCU for a football game. And on a whim, I donned a CCU cap. Working the sidelines that day, I noticed someone glancing in my direction a few times. It was Gardner. And after we started talking, I told him more of the work of 110forChrist and that I had written several stories from KCU in the past. 

“I have a story you might be interested in,” Gardner said. 

Interested? Yes. Energized? You’d better believe it. It is one of those stories I will never forget.

Thanks, Coach Gardner!

Kentucky Christian players celebrate after Emma Ball scores the winning run in the first game of a double-header against Reinhardt on April 1. KCU prevailed 8-7.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s