Childhood accident provides opportunities to share hope

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

LeAnn Sanders Shelton remembers the day she lost her left arm.

She was 4, and she ran around the back of her grandmother’s house and collided tragically with her cousin on the riding lawnmower.

“Somehow I fell and was run over,” she said.

Shelton remembers throwing her arm up to cover her face. She remembers her brother helping her get lose from the mower blade. But she doesn’t remember what it felt like before then — what it felt like to have two arms.

Give hope

“Starting out it wasn’t easy,” she said. “I had to relearn everything.”

But it wasn’t long before Shelton’s determination took her bravely into her new normal. At 5, she started playing baseball on a boys’ team — her town didn’t have girls’ softball yet. Two years later, when softball arrived, she joined the team.

“From then on, I played and got in a routine I was really good at,” Shelton said. At Pickens County High School, she was a star pitcher, outfielder and a leading hitter, and in 2013, she was inducted into the Dixie Softball Hall of Fame.

She recently released her story in a book called “Red Stitches,” because she says softball helped hold her together after she lost her arm.

“I want it to give hope to anyone who has experienced a loss of any kind,” Shelton said, adding that she hopes it will be a “lighthouse” for people looking for purpose.

“You have a purpose no matter what you’re going through,” she said. “Through having faith you’ll find that purpose.”

That message has become a ministry for Shelton, now a wife and mother of a 7-year-old son. She’s traveled around sharing it, and she’s been intentional to reach out to others she thought could use it.

When she heard about 13-year-old Bethany Hamilton — whose story was portrayed in the movie “Soul Surfer” — losing her arm in a shark attack in 2003, she got in touch with Hamilton to encourage her that everything would get better.

With help of Resources, she also got in touch with Heaven Harris, a Sylacauga teen who lost her arm in an ATV accident in 2015 , to help her relearn how to play softball with one arm.

“After she got better, she came to my house, and we practiced and practiced,” Shelton said. “She was a good pitcher and lost her right arm, so she had to relearn everything.”

Larry Shelton — her pastor at Arbor Springs Baptist Church, Reform, and a cousin by marriage — said LeAnn is the perfect person for Harris to learn from.

“I’ve watched her grow up and watched her determination … on the ball field but also in life,” Larry Shelton said. “From doing woodwork to changing her son’s diapers, it’s amazing how she accomplished things by just figuring out ways to do it. She’s always had a will to never give up.”