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June 21, 2013

‘Her disability is no disability’

7-year-old finds a way to excel at many sports

If you don’t accept the truth about Lexi Lyon’s “little arm,” then she’ll tell you the made-up version.

“A shark bit it off.”

And if you don’t accept the truth about her athletic ability, even with just half a left arm, then she’ll most likely surprise you.

Born an otherwise-healthy child, one thing is noticeable about Lexi. One arm isn’t as long as the other. And one hand isn’t there at all.

But that hasn’t stopped the 7-year-old from finding her own way to excel on the softball field. And the basketball court. And even the playground monkey bars.

It doesn’t matter. If there’s a will, she finds a way.

“We don’t do any helping,” said Katie Lyon, Lexi’s mother. “... She is very strong willed. I figured life would be like that, me showing her how to do everything. But she’s always been able to figure out everything on her own. The softball thing, she figured it out. ... She just did it.”

And before the age when some kids are involved in even one sport, Lexi is finding her way in several, regardless of any limitations others may assume she has.

A few inches short

Katie Lyon said doctors believe Lexi’s birth defect was the result of Amniotic Band Syndrome. According to, this is a non-genetic, random occurrence that can happen during pregnancy when the fetus becomes entangled with string-like bands in the mother’s womb, restricting growth. The result depends on the area affected, but it can result in complete amputations, club feet, a cleft lip and palate or even miscarriage.

Lexi’s left arm got tangled. The arm goes to her elbow and a couple inches further, but no more. Yet, she’s still as active as any other 7-year-old, playing multiple sports and inventing her own methods around her physical constraint.

Lexi will be in the second grade at Westside Elementary School this fall. She and her mother already have plans for her to attend Northwest Whitfield High School when she reaches her teenage years. This past week, she participated in the Lady Bruins Basketball Camp, for those in kindergarten through ninth grade, for the second consecutive summer.

She can dribble, pass, shoot and defend, and do them all well.

“She won the free throw competition in her age group,” said Northwest Whitfield’s varsity girls basketball coach Greg Brown, who runs the camp. “Her skill level is just as good as all the other kids her age. She just has to do things a different way.”

Lexi’s shooting strategy is simple: Use her “little arm” — as her mother calls it — to prop the ball against her right hand and shoot. She can make shots from up to 8 feet away on an 8-foot basket.

Callie White, an 8-year-old Westside student about to enter the third grade, has been Lexi’s friend for two years and attended the basketball camp with her the last two summers. She said Lexi’s method was surprising.

“She can’t hold it the same way with her arm,” Callie said. “She has to hold it with one hand and has to put her other arm on the ball. I wasn’t expecting that. ... It looked hard for her.”

A few weeks before the camp, Lexi’s Westside Rockets softball team, part of the Whitfield County Recreation Department leagues, completed its season. Lexi played shortstop and first base.

“She can hit pretty good,” said Michael Holmes, Lexi’s softball coach and next-door neighbor. “Her disability is no disability.”

Not quite sure how that works?

“She holds the bat with one hand and uses her little arm to prop it up,” Katie said. “Then when she swings, it’s just with her one arm.”

Most players need two hands to field — one as the glove hand and one as the throwing hand. Lexi’s fielding method is different. Her right hand is her glove hand.

And her throwing hand.

After fielding the ball, she tucks the glove underneath her “little arm” and removes the ball from the glove to throw. It takes around one second after fielding the ball to throw it.

However, she often doesn’t need to beat opponents with her throws. She chases them down.

“I like tagging them out,” she said.

Lexi is quite the gifted runner. Katie Lyon said Lexi finished the Healthcare Classic 5K race in around 30 minutes. Lexi also competed in the Dalton Parks and Recreation Department track and field meet in April at Dalton High School. She won the 200-meter dash in the 7-8-year-old girls division with a time of 39.21 seconds, which would’ve finished second in the 9-10 girls group. She also won the 7-8 girls’ 800 race with a time of 3 minutes, 44 seconds, which would’ve finished second in the 9-10 and 11-12 girls divisions.

Her aunt is Shelley Rickett, who coached the Northwest girls track and field program this season and helped the past two years with the girls cross country team. In high school, Rickett won Class 5A state titles in cross country and the 3,200-meter run during her sophomore season. She graduated in 2005 and was a four-time recipient of The Daily Citizen’s Spring Female Athlete of the Year award.

Lexi apparently has the running gene.

“What she does best is run,” Holmes said. “She’s a runner. ... In our age group, there’s not a lot of throwing people out from that position (shortstop). She’s athletic and we use her there because she can run people down.”

Katie Lyon said Lexi’s ability to run — fast — is the reason she pushed Lexi to soccer. A sport that is all feet and no arms — aside from the goalkeeper — should be good for a child who runs well and has just one hand, Katie thought.

“I thought soccer would be the best thing on the face of the Earth for her,” she said. “I didn’t know how it would go with basketball for her. We play in the yard because we love basketball. But I didn’t know how it’d go with her and other kids. ... To me, she seemed like the second best player there for her age. That was another moment where parents were sitting there and surprised.

“I was surprised by that, and I’m not surprised too often anymore by her.”

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