At nine years old, Haylee Atkinson has played more sports than many people twice her age. She enjoys baton twirling, gymnastics, soccer, tetherball, and softball, and her record on a pogo stick is 2,000 jumps in a row! Also a talented poet and a friend to everyone, it’s clear that she isn’t afraid to stand out—but she used to be. Haylee was born with only one hand.
“I used to hate people looking at me,” she admits. When she was younger, her parents signed her up to play soccer. She wouldn’t go onto the field because she was too shy and embarrassed. “People will stare at me,” she told them. Sometimes people stared, and sometimes people still do, but Haylee says, “It doesn’t bother me anymore.”
Maybe the attention doesn’t bother Haylee now because people are watching her out of admiration. Her sister Angie, who works at Haylee’s school, says, “A lot of things children do on the playground during recess, especially on the monkey bars, usually require two hands. Haylee does them anyway. She makes a point of trying to do anything anyone else can do, and doing it well.”
When her classmates started jumping rope, she wanted to find a way to jump rope, too. Since she could not hold the jump rope on one end, she tied it to her arm. Haylee has to jump higher that way (imagine jumping rope with the rope tied to your elbows), but she still became one of the best rope jumpers in her class.
Haylee has been influenced greatly by her older brothers and sisters: Erin, 23; Angie, 22; Bryant, 19; K. C., 18; and Greg, 15. Because of their interest in sports, Haylee wanted to be an athlete. Erin says, “We’d always tell her, ‘Haylee, you’d be so good at soccer! Why don’t you play soccer?’ But she wanted to play other sports. She wanted to do the same things everyone else can do.”
After watching one of her brother Greg’s baseball games, Haylee wanted to play softball. Her mom says, “We wondered, ‘How is Haylee going to do it?’” The next day they saw an article in the newspaper about a boy who played softball with only one hand, so Haylee went to watch one of his games to learn how he did it.
“Now we almost forget that Haylee has only one hand,” her dad says. “She can tie her shoes and do all these incredible things, and we don’t even think about it. We just expect that she can do things as well as anyone else.”
When Angie broke her arm, she realized how much she couldn’t do and how much longer it took to do even simple things. She says, “I am amazed by Haylee, especially because she doesn’t complain.”
Her dad adds, “You can always count on Haylee to have a smile and to be more happy than anyone else in the family. She’s the light of our home.”
Part of that light comes from Haylee’s faith in Heavenly Father, which makes it easy for her to be happy and grateful. One of her many poems reads:
I was born with just one hand,
And the thing that I can’t understand,
Is why did it have to be this way?
And then I look at myself and say …
People with two hands are no better than one,
And I can still have a lot of fun.
I can pogo stick and ride a bike.
When I was three, I could ride my trike.
I can jump, I can swing,
I can do sign language, and I can sing.
I can play kickball and soccer, too.
I have talents, just like you.
There are things in my life that are going to be tough,
But with Heavenly Father’s help, it won’t be that rough.
Besides helping her overcome challenges, Haylee knows that Heavenly Father protects her. “One time my mom and I went hiking in Kodachrome State Park,” she says, “but as we started up the trail, I didn’t feel good about it. I asked my mom if we should turn back, and she didn’t think so. I asked if we could say a prayer, so we did.” A few minutes later, they heard a strange rattling noise. Haylee had nearly stepped on a coiled rattlesnake! She knew that Heavenly Father had answered her prayer.
Because of her growing faith, Haylee has overcome shyness. “She isn’t scared of anyone,” Bryant says. “She always asks if she can come hang out with my friends and me.” Even though they’re much older than she is, she treats them the same as anyone else.
Everyone loves to have her around. When Angie was living in New York City, she couldn’t wait for Haylee to come visit. When Erin had to drive to Salt Lake City to run errands (about an hour’s drive), she invited Haylee along. She remembers, “We sang to the radio and had so much fun!”
Haylee is content spending time with her family doing almost anything, but some of her favorite family activities are walking to the nearby Provo Temple and visiting Brigham Young University—the art museums, the theaters, and the Creamery (an ice-cream shop). She especially liked watching Bryant when he played BYU football.
“Haylee has grown up on football,” Erin says. “When she was four years old, she once asked during the sacrament hymn, ‘Is it halftime?’” The deacons sitting a row ahead of her couldn’t help smiling.
Now Haylee likes making people laugh on purpose. Her mom says, “One night Haylee told me some jokes, and I giggled. She said, ‘No, Mom. That’s your fake laugh. I want you really laughing.’ She told me more jokes and funny stories until about 20 minutes later, I was laughing so hard I couldn’t stop.”
Even though she is sometimes disappointed by the few things she can’t do, and even though she sometimes has to find a way to do things differently than everyone else, Haylee is happy. “Heavenly Father helps me learn to do things,” she says. Things like playing sports, writing poems, and lighting up the lives of everyone she meets.