High School Sports
Federal Way's Martin a talent on and off the field
Seattle Times staff reporter
FEDERAL WAY — She can't imagine a better life.
Kelsey Martin is a fastpitch softball star, senior class president and homecoming queen at Federal Way High School. The multitalented teenager has brains and beauty. She carries a 3.97 grade-point average, is co-editor of the student newspaper and was a cast member in the drama club's recent production of "Steel Magnolias."
Martin, with long blond hair and dark brown eyes, is in many ways the model of perfection despite a left arm that ends just below the elbow.
Or, perhaps, because of it.
"I think, and my parents have always told me this, too, that God made me this way for a reason," she said. "And I think I wouldn't be the person I am today if I had been born any differently.
"I think it's been a blessing."
Martin, in turn, has blessed many others with her spirit and I-can-do-anything attitude.
"She's pretty inspiring to other people," said Joe Haworth, her fastpitch coach at Federal Way.
Batting one-handed in the No. 5 spot in the lineup, Martin had Federal Way's only two hits in a 2-1 victory over Decatur earlier this season and was 6 for 13 over the first four games before cooling off recently.
She starts in center field and fields the position much the same way Jim Abbott, the former major-league pitcher, did during his playing days. In a flash, she catches the ball in the glove on her right hand, slips the ball and glove under her left arm, takes the ball out with the right hand and throws.
"It's really quick," Haworth said of the transfer. "She does a great job of getting rid of the ball."
Fans on both sides of the field often marvel at Martin, especially when she slaps a line drive.
"You look up in the stands and everybody's talking about it," Haworth said. "Like, 'Holy, Moly, how did she do that?' "
Martin has been doing it for years and was an all-star on many of her childhood softball teams. Noelle Vallecorsa, Martin's teammate at Federal Way, remembers playing against her when they were in grade school.
"When I first saw her, I was kind of blown away," Vallecorsa said. "She was even better than some of the other girls."
Not at first. Martin remembers taking some hard knocks the first day of softball tryouts as a child. The ball hit her in the head when she missed a catch, and players and coaches rushed to check on her.
"I wanted to cry, but mostly out of embarrassment," she recalled.
But Martin didn't quit. She never wanted special treatment and didn't like it when a coach occasionally tried to offer her extra attention. In fact, while she admired Abbott growing up and has his baseball cards, her favorite player has always been Arizona Diamondback Randy Johnson, the former Mariners pitcher.
"I never thought of myself as any different than anyone else, so I just tried to hold myself up to the same standards as everyone else," said Martin, who wears a custom-made prosthetic when she isn't playing.
That attitude was instilled by her parents at a young age.
"Ever since I was little, I can always remember my parents telling me I can do anything I put my mind to and I'm not any different," Martin said. "That was always my state of mind, and they always encouraged me to try everything."
Before Kelsey was born, Jill and Dave Martin had no reason to suspect a problem. An ultrasound revealed no abnormalities. After the delivery, though, doctors said the umbilical cord apparently had wrapped around her lower left arm and prevented it from growing.
Jill's initial reaction was "devastation." But she and Dave approached it as a challenge and taught their daughter to do the same.
"Everybody has imperfections," Jill would tell Kelsey. "Some of them are visible and some of them aren't."
Kelsey's parents always encouraged her.
"We just tried to instill in her that there wasn't anything she couldn't do," her mother said. "All she needs to do is try. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out."
But even as a toddler, Kelsey wasn't afraid to fail, and rarely did.
"She's excelled in everything," Jill said.
Shriners Hospital in Portland has provided Kelsey with a prosthetic arm since she was 2 years old. The limb, which is bent at the elbow, can pass as a real arm at first glance.
"One of my teachers told me she didn't realize it until second semester," said Kelsey, whose sister, Kiley, is a freshman pitcher for the Federal Way junior varsity.
Kelsey simply flexes her upper left arm to activate electrodes that open and close the hand in a thumb-to-forefinger action. She can pick up and hold things as well as use it to tie her shoes.
"I feel naked without it," Kelsey said.
Except on a sports field. Martin has never worn a prosthetic while playing.
"It's just easier without it," she said.
Martin also played organized soccer and basketball, but has focused on softball since eighth grade. She still plays basketball as a volunteer for a community group that involves developmentally disabled men and women.
"Working with them makes me appreciate everything I have even more," she said. "It's not that I pity the people I work with at all. I respect them and don't think of them as any different."
She remembers being teased only twice as a kid. Once, after a boy made a comment, she socked him.
"It's the only time I ever got into a physical confrontation," she said. "And it was more out of shock."
Has she missed out on anything?
"I'd love to be able to play the guitar," she said. "That and the fact I couldn't do monkey bars when I was a kid."
But Martin's can-do attitude and strong will has kept her wish list short.
"Once she sets her mind to it, there's no stopping her," said her father, who has coached her in softball. "She finds a way to do it. ... She's amazed me her whole life; not just in softball, but everything."
Kelsey, 18, seems well-prepared for her next step in life. She has been accepted to Washington State University and Ithaca College in upstate New York. Wherever she goes, she plans to major in communications, either as a broadcaster or as a print journalist.
Wherever she goes and whatever she accomplishes, Martin leaves a trail of astonishment and admiration.
"She has made us more proud over the past 18 years than I ever thought possible," said her mother, Jill. "She has changed all our lives."
Sandy Ringer: 206-718-1512 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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