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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Robyn Shelton fields a grounder at third base. "(She) has lived a normal life," her mom, Sue, said.

It was a question that broke her heart.

"Robyn doesn't complain, but one night last summer we were sitting in the kitchen and she said to me, 'Mom, why was I born like this?' I just said, 'I wish I knew. You're just going to have to do the best you can with what you've got,"' said Sue Shelton as she watched her daughter play softball for the Highland Rams. "Sometimes you can see others' problems and sometimes you can't. But we've all got them."

It was kindergarten when Robyn first remembers being teased about her prosthetic leg. She said people still make fun of her "all the time," but she doesn't spend a lot of time or energy worrying about what those people think of her. She is too busy trying to find a way to do all of the things she loves — including playing third base for the Highland varsity softball team this year.

"I just shake it off," Robyn said of the stares and name-calling. "I usually don't even say anything. ... It's surprising, but I see lots of kids getting picked on at school. I just don't see why people do it. I don't really get that."

The other thing Robyn doesn't get is special treatment from her softball coach, friends or family. When she tried out for the team, coach Junior Lopati said he didn't even know the infielder had a prosthetic leg.

"I saw her limp a little, but I didn't think anything of it because she was doing everything everyone else did," he said. "I was really surprised when I found out. ... I think everyone's response to it when they see her play is that she is no different than anyone else."

But she is different.

Robyn was born with no fibula and no growth plate at the bottom of her tibula. Her mother said that most children born with her particular birth defect do not have a foot, but Robyn did. That left Sue and Mark Shelton with an agonizing decision to make for their baby daughter.

The Sheltons could undergo multiple surgeries every year in which doctors broke Robyn's leg in several places and then tried to lengthen it, or they could amputate and allow their daughter to wear a prosthetic.

She saw the attempt to stretch her daughter's tiny leg each year as "barbaric."

"I wondered what kind of a life she'd have growing up," said Shelton. "She'd be in traction six weeks of every year, not to mention the pain of recovering."

The Sheltons believed Robyn would have a more normal childhood if they amputated the foot and allowed her to use a prosthetic leg.

"Robyn, for all intents and purposes, has lived a normal life," said Sue Shelton. "She's had challenges that are special because of her leg."

In fact, sometimes that challenge is just plain painful.

"I've always just left it up to her to decide how much she can take," said Sue Shelton. "If to her the benefit of doing whatever it is she's doing is worth hurting ... then I'm not going to stop her."

Robyn said she develops sores from all the activity, and her current prosthetic leg has been broken twice because she's so active. Doctors at Shriners Hospital just keep casting the custom-made leg, and Robyn keeps on playing.

Her best friend and teammate, Abbey Hewes, said it was Robyn who got her interested in softball.

"We just hit it off right away," said the team's catcher. "She amazes me sometimes with the things she does. She is really amazing. She has more boyfriends than me. ... I just love her personality. Most of the time, I forget about her leg completely. She just has a good heart, and she is always positive."

Lopati said Robyn teaches her teammates about overcoming difficulties just by showing up and doing what they all know causes her serious physical pain.

"Sometimes I can tell she's hurting by the way she runs," he said. "Once she even crawled to finish. ... She leads by example because she's always at the front of the line for everything. She's a good teammate with a great spirit. She's helped motivate our team by showing them that nothing is impossible."

Helping others deal with life's tough stuff is one of the aspects of her life Robyn is most grateful for. She shares her experiences and successes with other children at Shriners and has often inspired them not to be defined by what others believe they're capable — or not capable — of doing.

"Sometimes I see that it's made a difference to other people and that's rewarding," she said. As for softball, she plans to continue to play recreationally.

"I love that you never know what's going to happen," she said. "You always have to be on your toes. ... High school softball was a rude awakening. It was more competitive, which I love, but I also never had to run so much. It made me a stronger player and person."


E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com