If you look close enough and pay attention, you might notice Jo’Landa White’s left arm doesn’t extend straight.
Her shoulder is raised slightly.
White, 22, a senior softball power hitter at St. Augustine’s College, has brachial plexus birth palsy, also known as Erb’s palsy, a paralysis of the arm caused by injury to the upper group of the arm’s main nerves, usually occurring during a difficult birth.
“I can’t extend past my elbow. I can’t lift up, lift back, just basic movements I can’t do,” White said, demonstrating her arm movement.
Her arm always feels tight, she said.
But you’d never know it by her performance.
She has blasted 28 career home runs, the most by any Falcon in at least 10 years. She catches for a team that is in the championship round of the CIAA tournament Saturday at Walnut Creek. The winner gets a bid to the NCAA Division II tournament.
White had two hits and 2 RBIs in the semifinal win to help get them there. She’s hitting .330 with three home runs this season, which she described as an off year.
White was instrumental in turning around a program that hadn’t won a regular-season conference championship before sharing the Southern division crown this season. In 2013, in her sophomore season, she batted .422 and led the team along with her younger sister, Daja White, with eight home runs. She was named second team All-Region.
White can’t really hit outside pitches because her arm doesn’t extend, but pitchers have trouble exploiting that. She stands close to the plate and dares somebody to throw it by her, then turns on their mistakes.
“I’ll crowd the plate to entice them to throw me inside,” she said. “If they throw it inside, I know I can hit it.”
Behind the plate, she uses her feet to move in front of the ball.
“She does an excellent job of making life work for her,” her coach Nikki Bynum Bumpass said.
Her happy place
Growing up in Leland, N.C., across the Cape Fear River from Wilmington, playing on the diamond runs in the family. So does playing for the Falcons.
Her mom and aunt played for St. Augustine in the early 1980s. And her dad played baseball. Now, White plays alongside her sister, a junior utility player.
Softball is her safe haven. “It’s my happy place,” Jo’Landa said.
Safe from the insults and teasing. It’s always been that way. She said she doesn’t look at herself as having a disability, but others occasionally do.
“In high school I used to get picked on because they’d think my arm is short,” she said. “They’d say, ‘Hey short arm.’”
She still hears some of that. So when she walks around campus, she holds a purse on her arm to hide it.
“Still today if somebody says something about it I kind of get defensive and it hurts my feelings a little bit,” White said. “I just don’t see myself as being handicapped, and I don’t look at myself as being disabled because I can do whatever I put my mind to.”
Just ask Daja, her sister.
“I don’t think about it because she can do anything,” Daja said. “Literally.”
Daja has a protective streak, one reason teammates refer to her as Jo’Landa’s big little sister. That helps when the words hurt.
“They don’t know the feeling,” Jo’Landa said. “They don’t know what I’ve been through. They don’t know what my mom went through to try to get me to be who I am. My mom went out 100 percent to try to get me to be fully capable of being like other people.”
For instance, many years of physical therapy and stretching. But nothing changed.
“It’s like someone talking about a handicapped person and they don’t know their situation,” she said. “You don’t know if they could have gotten into car accident that made them that way.”
Leaving it on the field
One struggle White dealt with on her way to St. Augustine was lifting weights. She couldn’t extend her arm. But she worked her way around it.
That’s why Bumpass recruited her in her first year as a coach.
“It doesn’t stop her,” Bumpass said of her disability. “She’s an All-American softball player. You should have seen her at tryouts back then. She played shortstop and catcher. My first year here, she was the only catcher we had, so she physically caught every game. But it doesn’t hold her back at all.”
Bumpass described White as a leader, a competitor.
“When she dives, a lot of times she’ll swell,” Bumpass said. “She won’t tell you. Or if she’s hurting, she’ll keep going.”
She always has.
St. Augustine’s senior catcher Jo’Landa White has hit 28 career home runs: