It’s an exciting time for the Atlanta Braves, winning their first division title in five years with a young team that few expected would finish anywhere but last place. It’s a story not too different for one young Atlanta Braves employee who won a top award from the organization, overcoming a devastating blindness a year ago to achieve such honors.
Katie Hearn was a softball pitcher who came to LaGrange College, and chose to major in political science. She will be the first to tell you that she struggled in every single class she took from me. She was a hard worker though, persisting through everything, eventually understanding the scientific method, statistics and databases that students learn in my classes.
Katie took on all kinds of challenges as a LaGrange College student. It wasn’t just enough for her to pass a class. She wanted to be good at her major. She traveled to academic conferences, participating in an academic roundtable with another student where they were the only undergraduates in the whole room of professors and graduate students.
In her finest moment, she presented our class research on religion and conflict in a Birmingham conference when tornado sirens sounded off all over town in the middle of her talk. The audience rose, moved away from the windows, crowded around her and indicated she should continue. It showed how much they were interested in our undergraduate research.
Ms. Hearn graduated and got a job teaching, even winning an award at her school. But sports are a passion for her, and she got a job with the Braves over the summer, working her way up from handing out magnetic schedules to being involved in the digital marketing department for the organization, beating out a host of candidates for the job. She seemed to have it made.
Then, she went blind in a matter of weeks. Doctors told her to find another career.
But Katie took what she learned from her parents and siblings, friends and college professors. She didn’t quit. After the team granted her a leave of absence to get training on how to cope with being blind, she rejoined the Braves, steeling herself not only to cope with her loss of eyesight, but also to learn how to employ artificial intelligence in the system.
Whenever I go see her at a Braves game, she’s always there with a young college graduate that she is mentoring. Other employees tell me how her story has inspired them in their careers. She’s been interviewed on radio stations, and made the front cover of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Living section, with a well-written profile by Helena Oliviero about this remarkable Atlanta Braves worker.
The team honored her just a few weeks ago with the Walter Banks Award. In the article, Oliviero quoted Derek Schiller, Braves president and CEO as saying, “Katie’s strength and perseverance is unparalleled and we are all incredibly proud to have her in our Braves family. Her dedication to ensuring our fans have an extraordinary experience at SunTrust Park is why she is more than deserving of this honor.”
When I called her on the phone to invite her to our college to speak, after her devastating illness, I remarked to her, “You may have lost your sight, but you definitely have not lost your vision.”
“That’s funny,” she replied. “Chipper Jones said that to me the other day.”
For all of those Atlanta Braves baseball players, and the staff members who support them, the future actually looks a lot brighter than it did last year.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.