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Swinging for the fences

In the first softball scrimmage of her senior season, Payten Nortman started at pitcher for the Pilot Point Lady Cats and hit a grand slam in her first at-bat.

A few days later, she signed a letter of intent to play softball at Frank Phillips Junior College.

Things seem to be falling in place nicely for the 18-year-old.

But a year and a half ago, Payten’s future wasn’t so clear. One moment, she was smiling and lifting weights in the high school weight room. The next, she was on the floor.

“ She gave us quite a scare last year when she fell in the weight room and had a seizure,” softball coach James Ramsey said. “No one knew what or why it was happening.”

Payten was diagnosed as having an astrocytoma, a type of brain tumor.

Six days after Payten collapsed, surgeons at Medical City in Dallas performed their first surgery on Payten to remove the tumor. After she started suffering severe headaches, an MRI showed the tumor hadn’t been completely removed. Six weeks after the first surgery, she was placed under the knife again.

Although Payten came through the surgery OK, her neurologist warned that she might have to learn to walk and to feed herself again.

“The tumor has a mind of its own, and we were blessed that everything ended up positive,” said her father, Dennis Nortman.

There are four categories of astrocytoma brain tumors. Payten’s was benign but growing and was placing pressure on the frontal lobe of her brain, which caused the seizures and severe headaches.

“It took me about 24 full hours of my dad explaining what was happening to my body for me to understand all of it and accept it,” Payten said.

Payten has a strong support system around her with years of medical training and experience. Her father is a paramedic.

“My greatest strength is my family; without them, I have nothing,” she said. “They just kept telling me to fight.”

Payten hasn’t had any more symptoms since her second surgery, and she picked back up where she left off on the softball field.

“Payten never even thought for one second about not playing softball,” said her mother, Diane. “It was her life-long dream since she was a little girl. She just did it. She even talked the doctors into releasing her early to play.”

But returning wasn’t easy.

“The hardest thing I did was getting on that mound again,” Payten said. “When the bat cracks that ball, it is a sound all of its own. The ball flies towards my head; it was hard not to flinch.”

“I knew my team, my family, was there with me. Then I told myself that this is my passion and my life. I am not giving up on my dream.”

Ramsey describes Payten as “a focused player.”

“She has worked very hard to get here, and I couldn’t be more excited for her this year,” he said. “I am looking forward to what she can bring to this team this season.”

Payten also plays select team softball. A few months ago, her play in a tournament in Plano caught the eye of Taylor Jones, an assistant coach at Frank Phillips Junior College in Borger. Jones continued to scout Payten and invited her to visit the campus.

“She was a great fit academically and athletically,” said Frank Phillips head coach Lucas Grider. “We liked her at pitcher and liked what we saw on and off the mound. We offered her [a scholarship] on the spot. Coach Jones did a great job finding her.”

“Payten took some time and then decided to commit. We were very happy with her decision and look forward to her contribution at the collegiate level.”

Payten signed her national letter of intent Wednesday morning at Pilot Point High School.

“I am very excited for Payten and hope she excels at the next level,” Ramsey said. “She deserves this opportunity to move forward.”

After she obtains her associate degree at Frank Phillips, Payten plans to transfer to the University of North Texas to complete her bachelor’s degree. She plans to obtain certification in radiology.

“I don’t know if I will try and play softball at UNT or if they will even allow me to play when I am getting a highly competitive degree,” she said.

She will continue to have scans of her brain every six months, looking for any regrowth of her tumor. She has one scheduled in June before she leaves and another during her Christmas break from college.

As she goes into her senior year, Payten is confident in the future.

“I’m alive,” she said. “Life is good, and my future is in God’s control.”

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