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Unbreakable: BRHS’ Tatum Gandy shows resilience in the face of tragedy

Published 3:31pm Saturday, April 20, 2013

Tatum Gandy is perhaps the most feared hitter in the Benjamin Russell Lady Wildcats’ lineup.
In addition to dominating the diamond, Tatum expanded her athletic scope and became an integral part of the Wildcats’ volleyball team, which is a top-10 program in 5A.
With her athletic success comes the task of being able to balance that with academic excellence, as she maintains a 4.0 GPA.
“You know that you have to keep your grades up from the start,” Tatum said. “From the get go, my mom pushed me toward having a 4.0. I had to work and balance it out over time.”
As a result of achieving that balance, she has earned multiple scholarships. One in particular was from the Bryant-Jordan Student-Athlete Foundation, which awards students who are able to balance academics and athletics in the face of hardships.
Tatum was honored as one of the 96 regional scholarship recipients during the gala.
But what Tatum received upon attending the event was more than she was prepared for.
The 28th annual Bryant-Jordan banquet was held two days after Tatum’s parents, Debbie and Austin, were tragically killed in a car accident less than a mile from their home.
Tatum was originally being honored because of her excellence in academic and athletics while helping to take care of her father, who was battling ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
She said that she knew AHSAA Director Steve Savarese would acknowledge her during the banquet but not to the extent that it happened.
“I was approached beforehand, and he asked if it was OK if he said something,” Tatum said. “I didn’t know he was going to ask me to stand up.”
Fighting back tears, she stood as Savarese raised Tatum’s resolve.
After all was said and done, those in attendance offered her a standing ovation.
From there, the tears flowed.
“It was very emotional,” she said. “When all the other students that were being recognized for what they did – when they all stood up and acknowledged me, it was very overwhelming. It literally made me bawl.”
Seeing her father battle the illness helped to put things in perspective, Tatum said.
“He was diagnosed when I was a little kid, and growing up, I watched him slowly get worse,” she said. “The way it was in our house, we had to help him and then find time to do other stuff. Whether it was helping him get his dinner or helping him shower or anything, it’s something I had to learn to do. He needed my help more than I needed to do other stuff,” Tatum added. “He was always my priority.”
Tatum was able to draw inspiration from the events. Seeing Austin fight the disease and remain in good spirits helped to keep her upbeat, she said.
“To see him go through what he went through and always put a smile on his face was very inspiring, actually,” Tatum said. “At the house, he wasn’t always at his best, but out in public he was always just right. It’s something I’ll always look up to.”
One trait Tatum said she received from her parents was a competitive streak – particularly from her father, a former football player.
“My parents loved sports so they got me into them early,” Tatum said. “My siblings and I competed for everything we did in the house.”
In the Gandy household, Tatum’s main “rival” was her older half-sister Morgan Howard.
Tatum said she looks back fondly on those days with Morgan, who also made her name on the softball field  at Benjamin Russell before going on to play at Thomas University.
“I looked up to my sister when I was a kid,” she said. “I always went to her games. Softball was something that interested me from an early age. Eventually, I just fell in love with it.”
That was nearly 13 years ago. These days, the southpaw slugger’s effectiveness may be attributed to her power. It’s something she said she strived to develop in order to best Morgan when her turn on the diamond arrived.
“We competed in softball and in the little things, whether it was attention or anything like that. One of our biggest things was homeruns,” Tatum said with a laugh. “My sister didn’t hit one until she was a senior, so I made sure I could hit one before her.”
Throughout her high school career, when Tatum competed, Debbie and Austin were always there to cheer her on.
They eventually became a part of her routine.
Her day would start with a little nudge from her parents, much like the push they gave her toward athletics.
“My mom would yell at me to get up, and I’d get ready for school and go,” Tatum said. “They’d call me before they were on their way. When they got there, I made sure to hug them before every game. I made sure they were both there and where I wanted them to be.”
With the heartbreaking passing of her parents, that routine was turned upside down.
The day after being honored by the Bryant-Jordan Scholarship Foundation, Tatum played in her first game since her parents died.
She said she knew that her parents were with every step of the way – and not just in the form of the picture she taped to her helmet that day.
“I knew they were there, just not in the way I wanted them to be,” she said. “They were there but just in a different sense. I was very emotional that game.”
In that game versus Valley, Tatum leaned on her second family to help her through the loss of her first family.
“I knew that my team needed me, and I needed them,” she said. “We pulled together, and while we didn’t come out on top, we played a good game.”
Tatum acknowledged that the process has been tough.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you how (I’ve been able to remain strong),” she said. “I just try to keep going.”
Tatum will go on to Central Alabama Community College, as she earned a scholarship to play for a powerhouse of a CACC Trojans softball team.
“The team knows what it’s doing, and Coach (Greg) Shivers is a great coach,” she said. “I know that I’m going to have to bust my butt, but Debbie and Austin wouldn’t want me to not start. I’m going to do everything I can to help CACC and show them that I belong on the field.”
Tatum said the lessons and values that her parents taught her helped to shape who she is on and off the field.
“They taught me to always give everything I’ve got in every thing I do,” Tatum said. “They taught me to give 110 percent. They taught me to have good relationships with others and to be nice to people because you don’t know what other people are going through. They taught me to be someone that others could look up to.”
One of the greatest lessons bestowed upon Tatum from her parents is perhaps the easiest to see – her selflessness and resiliency. It’s why she’s able to smile in the face of tragedy.
“They taught me to never give up,” Tatum said. “I could’ve completely given up softball two weeks ago, but that’s not what my parents would have wanted me to do. They want me to succeed. I’m going to go on and make them proud.”