Before every girl’s basketball game this season at Bronson Middle/High School, Payton Stanley, 15, led her team in the Lord’s Prayer.
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Stanley, nicknamed “Scrappy” by her teammates, has played basketball for four years and just finished her freshman season on Feb. 1. In the 2020-2021 season, she played on the school’s junior varsity roster, but in the 2021-2022 season, she started for the varsity squad as co-captain. The 5-foot-5-inch point guard also plays volleyball and softball for her school.
And she competes at this level, as an athlete with one hand.
Stanley lost her right hand in an all-terrain vehicle accident at the age of 8. But her passion for sports never waned; it only intensified. She said it’s taught her about having determination in life.
“Sports means to me playing with my friends and really getting out and experiencing new things,” Stanley said. “But especially basketball, it’s really taught me to try new things and to stay motivated.”
In 2015, Stanley was riding an ATV with Zander, one of her four older brothers, on a farm in Bronson. It flipped after losing traction in the mud. Acting on instinct, Payton Stanley stretched out her right arm to cushion the fall, an act that crushed her dominant hand.
She was airlifted to UF Health Shands Hospital, where she would stay for roughly two months. Stanley suffered non-reversible nerve damage rendering her hand unusable.
She was given two options: Keep her non-functional hand or amputate it. The decision was clear in her mind–she would amputate.
According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were 524,600 emergency department-treated injuries in the United States associated with off-highway vehicles, which include ATVs, recreational off-highway vehicles, and/or utility terrain or utility task vehicles, from 2015 through 2019.
Losing her right hand allowed Stanley to step out of her comfort zone and try new things. In sixth grade, she started playing basketball. Her best friend and current co-captain Audrey Hubbard, 15, convinced her to go out for the sport.
“When I first started (basketball), oh I was trash. Oh my gosh,” Stanley said. “But obviously, I worked out pretty hard. And yeah, I’m doing good now.”
As a little girl, Stanley played Tee-ball and soccer. But she said she struggled to return to sports after the accident.
“When I first got into sports, I did feel like I wanted to give up quite a lot. I got very aggravated with myself, and I felt like I was constantly holding up the team.”
Stanley said her family and her peers helped her get through the times when she felt like quitting. Zach Hodskins, a former member of the Florida Gators men’s basketball team between 2014 and 2016 and a current professional player for the streetball team Ballislife East Coast Squad, is one of Payton’s inspirations. Hodskins was born without his left hand, and he has been playing basketball ever since he could walk.
“I was really happy to meet her just to show her that she’s able to do stuff even after the accident,” he said. “It’s really big for me to see that stuff come to fruition, and I’m super proud of her and happy for her.”
Jackie Colson, Stanley’s mother, is proud of both her daughter’s athletic and academic achievements. She’s an A/B honor roll student enrolled in honors classes a grade above her level.
“She’s like a go-getter,” Colson said. “She doesn’t let anything hold her back.”
Coach Rodney Thomas, also known as Coach Rod, sits at the helm of Bronson’s girl’s basketball and volleyball teams – two sports Stanley plays. He said adjusting his coaching strategy to play to her strengths was a welcomed challenge.
Thomas coached at Bronson for 26 years before Stanley came along. He’d never coached a player like her before, and Thomas said he was consistently motivated to set her up for success.
“To have her energy and to see her come out and do things that–you just don’t see on a normal (basis),” Thomas said.
Stanley’s friends and family said she does not let her accident define her. Instead, they said she accepts the challenge and inspires others.
Her teammate, Audrey Hubbard said she saw Stanley grow exponentially after her accident. She said she’s more driven now than she was before–something that Hubbard deeply respects.
“Without her, I probably wouldn’t go as hard as I do,” she said. “She pushes me. As a friend, she is my person I go to right away.”
Stanley’s aunt Ursulla Stanley Carter said Stanley is always putting others first despite what she has gone through. Since her accident, Stanley frequently goes up to strangers to ask if she can pray for them, or if they are doing okay.
Even when Stanley was in the hospital awaiting one of many surgeries, her mother said she was solely concerned about her oldest brother having a great birthday.
“She’s always thinking about other people and trying to lighten up their day,” she said.
As Stanley exchanges her basketball jersey and sneakers for cleats and a softball bat, she does so confidently, ready to conquer whatever comes her way.