Calvin Coolidge once said, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Og Mandino broke it down like this, “Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.” Then Denis Waitley put it where the goats could get it when he spit, “Determination gives you the resolve to keep going in spite of the roadblocks that lay before you.”
Well playas…to the naked eye and to the common mind North Central’s Ajah Stallings has the roadblock of not bein’ able to fully use her right arm. The 5’9″ senior guard suffered a Brachial Plexus injury durin’ birth. The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that sends signals from your spine to your shoulder, arm and hand. That injury occurs when those nerves are stretched, compressed, or in the most serious cases, ripped apart or torn away from the spinal cord. As a result, Ajah has limited use of her right arm. She can’t open her hand and can’t fully extend her right arm.
However, she’s a straight up ball player and a team leader for the No.1 North Central Panthers!! It’s UNBELIEVABLE to watch her play. I’ve been coverin’ the NBA for the past seven years and this year I decided to add high school sports to my repertoire. I’ve covered a game or two here and there but nothin’ like hittin’ the grind on a regular basis. I covered the M.I.C. durin’ football season so once that was over I rolled into hoop season.
The first time I covered a girl’s game I wanted the see what all the hype was about surroundin’ North Central. They were No.1 so let’s do this. They were playin’ Ben Davis and as soon as they tipped off I noticed No.13’s right arm wasn’t movin’. My eye was immediately drawn to her because I was born with only one full arm and I played football.
I said to myself, “She’s about to kill these girls out here!” Without ever seein’ her play I knew that she had the heart of the lion and the determination of a cheetah. Why? Because she was out there. I also said, “And I bet her defense is NUTS!!!” Why? Because havin’ to live in a world where she’s physically different has forced her to naturally work harder than everybody else.
Everything I initially thought when she walked onto the floor was true. She was gettin’ up and down the floor with the fire of a leader playin’ defense like a warrior. But hold on bruh, she plays every aspect of the game just as well as she plays defense. She averages 14 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals per game all with essentially one hand.
Ajah’s parents, Wade and Reatha Stallings, never put limitations on their daughter from the time she was born. When she was just a baby they had an occupational therapist come to the house and Ajah cried every time this particular therapist came by. The therapist said that baby Ajah may be mentally ill and that she may have been damaged. Ajah’s mother was fired up, called the state and told them to never send that therapist back to her house again. She wanted a different person because in her words “I was NEVER goin’ to let someone tell me what my child couldn’t do.”
When the other therapist came in to try teach her how to dress herself when she was about two or three years old, he quickly learned that he wasn’t really needed because this kid had already taught herself how to put her clothes on.
What people don’t understand about people like Ajah is that she doesn’t miss what she’s never had. She’s never had the use of her right arm so it’s not a disability. She’s been functionin’ with only one arm and hand her entire life. Therefore, to underestimate her when she walks onto the floor is crazy. How am I an expert in this field? Because I’ve lived the same life she’s livin’ right now. God is amazin’ isn’t he?
If you suddenly appeared in a world where people had three arms. You wouldn’t feel disadvantaged because you’ve always functioned with two. That’s how Ajah feels. She doesn’t miss what she’s never had. This is what God has given her and it’s a blessin’.
She started playin’ basketball in kindergarten with the boys. So from day one she’s had to learn to compete and grind at a level that the average person can’t understand. Think about that, she’s functionin’ with one arm playin’ with boys at 5 years old. What’s happenin’ at that moment is that her mind is bein’ wired to ALWAYS work harder that everyone else. Havin’ a greater work ethic is normal for her.
As result, it affects every aspect of her life. She’s a senior with a 4.3GPA that’s headed to Purdue to study Pharmacy. I asked her how she’s able to do so well in the classroom and hoop like that. Her response was golden. She said, “I never wanted to be in the regular classes. I’ve always wanted to stand out.”
She’s not only goin’ to Purdue to study but she’s goin’ to play basketball too!!! Ajah has been invited to join the Boilermakers as a preferred walk-on. Step back for a minute and think about that, this young lady that’s playin’ with one arm is goin’ to play basketball in the Big Ten. Why? Because she has the heart of a lion and the determination of a cheetah.
As a child her parents took her to every major college camp around so that she could compete at the highest level. She would make the all-star teams by the end of camp or win the one-on-one competitions even after everybody looked at her sideways. Again, the common mind can’t understand it but those of us that have lived the same experience can. That’s why I had to sit down with her.
Since she started playin’ basketball opposin’ coaches and players have been tryin’ to force her to her right thinkin’ that she would be at a disadvantage. On the surface and to the common mind it would be. However, it is the challenge that she has been preparin’ for every day of her life. Therefore, tryin’ to force her to her right is only a disadvantage to her opponents. I want to salute the will and the resolve of Ajah Stallings. She’s the example that all people should thirst to become.
Take what God has given you and use it to the best of your ability. When I speak to young people on a regular basis I tell them that you have to learn how to become successful in spite of who you are. Everybody’s got something wrong with them. Some, like myself and Ajah, are more visual than others. However, we all have something wrong with us. Embrace who you are like Ajah has and you’ll find happiness and success every step of the way. Stop me when I start lyin’!
1) Spit: verb – to say
2) Put it where the goats can get it: verb phrase – to make it as elementary as possible. To put it at ground level so everyone can understand it.
The G is excluded from the endings of all words because the G is near and dear to my heart because I’m from “The G” which is Gary, Indiana. So I only use the G when I’m talkin’ about “The G!”
The caption under the photo isn’t real but its real talk!