COMPTON, Calif. -- Haiyan Tanner is just like any other precocious, engaging, athletically gifted kid.
The 13-year-old plays baseball and basketball and excels at both, and though she also played lacrosse for a while a few years ago, baseball is her preferred sport.
So there was nothing unusual about the seventh grader when she took the mound to pitch during Saturday’s competition at the Trailblazer Series -- at least, not at first glance. She’s such a natural that few, if any spectators, had any idea that she has a prosthetic left leg.
“It’s easy to hide, actually,” Tanner said. “It looks so much like a normal leg and it functions like a normal leg. It does everything you want a normal leg to do.”
Tanner was born with a left leg that was shorter than her right. The left foot, which had only three toes, was bent off to the side. When her parents adopted her from China when she was almost 3, doctors concluded that the best course of action would be to amputate the leg below the knee. That way, she would become accustomed to using a prosthetic at a very young age, to where it would be a very natural way of life as she grew up.
Otherwise, doctors said, she would spend her childhood undergoing surgery after surgery.
The decision, though difficult at the time, was the right one.
“She’s grown up with it, she’s used to it and has never let it stop her,” Amy Tanner, Haiyan’s mother, said. “She’s never upset about it. It’s just part of who she is. She is naturally gifted, she’s naturally athletic. Everything she tries, she’s good at.”
Haiyan, who lives in a suburb of Chicago, was one of nearly 100 girls who participated in the Trailblazer Series, a baseball tournament for 11- to 13-year-old girls, held every year at the MLB Youth Academy in Compton. The event is held in conjunction with Jackie Robinson Day (April 15), which celebrates the original, and ultimate, baseball trailblazer.
Robinson’s legacy is highly involved and encompasses myriad qualities that MLB has included in its platform to work to make the game inclusive and diverse.
“Breaking Barriers,” a concept closely tied to Robinson’s legacy, is about overcoming obstacles and fighting through adversity. Examples of this were everywhere at the Trailblazer series, such as Haiyan throwing heat during her multi-inning performance on the mound.
“There’s nothing different than any of the girls out here,” her coach, Alex Oglesby, said. “I think that just speaks so highly to what she does and the quality of work she puts in from a young age. She makes it look completely natural. She’s an extremely strong player. Her performance on the mound was awesome.”
Haiyan embraces what makes her unique, but at the same time, she feels no different from anyone else. That has been a winning combination in every aspect of her life -- not just sports.
“I feel special, but still like another kid,” she said. “I can do the same thing as any other kid, but I just have something special that maybe allows me to work harder.
“The leg never holds me back. I can always do what I want to do. I can hit the way I want to hit. I don’t think it’s ever affected me.”
As her mother watched from the sidelines, she noted how much sports has helped shaped all aspects of her daughter’s life, especially from a confidence standpoint.
“She’s a kind person. She’s a good friend. She’s just such a good girl,” Tanner said. “And she works so hard at everything -- at school, at home, sports, everything. She just goes for it, and I think sports has been really good for her.”