CARTHAGE, Mo. — Closing ceremonies for the 2020 Olympics took place just under a week ago, but the summer games aren’t over; the Paralympics are yet to begin. Saturday, Carthage Paralympic swimmer Haven Shepherd began her journey to Tokyo, and the community rallied to send her off in style.
Before the sun had even come up, people lined the Carthage square holding homemade poster and American flags, all in service of sending Shepherd off on a high note.
Abi Almandinger, Executive Director of Vision Carthage, says, “We were just all so thrilled for her. Carthage is a pretty tight-knit community, we’re really proud of her, so we just wanted to come together in this way and support her regardless of how early we’re getting up in the morning.”
Shepherd was given a police escort while she rode on a fire engine. She was, of course, waving a Team USA flag.
Shepherd says, “I was thinking on the whole ride, in preschool you always talk about firetrucks and how awesome it is, and you finally get to ride one one, I was like ‘Wow! They should give out free passes for this!'”
Friends and family were all there to support her, though they aren’t surprised she’s made it this far.
Lyman Burr, Shepherd’s first coach, says, “She’s just put in an amazing amount of work, and it’s not really a big surprise to me because I thought she’d make it all along. Her drive, her energy, it’s where she wanted to be.”
The celebration didn’t end in Carthage. When she arrived at Joplin Regional Airport to start her journey to Tokyo, she was welcomed by more supporters.
Shepherd says, “I was just very happy. I couldn’t stop smiling. It’s all the people I love out there cheering me on. I just keep coming to the fact that it’s so early in the morning and it is! I just think it’s so great they took a Saturday morning to come see me go away. It’s just an experience I’ll never have again and I just want to take it all in.”
Of course, this is just the beginning of Haven’s Paralympic journey; the games start Tuesday, August 24.