Carthage swimmer prepares to compete in Tokyo Paralympics

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JOPLIN, Mo. — If you don’t know Haven Shepherd’s story by now, know this: She’s one of the most positive individuals you’ll ever meet despite losing her legs at an early age. Her and her family played a game when she was a toddler where they always looked at the advantages of Haven not having feet, such as not feeling the hot concrete or the cold snow. Haven grabbed onto that idea and kept adding onto it to now take the next step of being a Paralympic swimmer.

“I hope people learn from my story that you can make your own story,” Haven said. “I never understood the reason why to complain, or not see the best in people, or situations that I’m in.”

The pool is Haven’s haven — her safe place. It’s a place where she can find peace and it’s a piece of her life that’s shaped her story.

Her story begins in Vietnam where she survived a suicide bomb that took her legs. Haven was later adopted when she was 20 months old into a family that breathes athletics. She’s the youngest of seven and that’s where her story began to write itself because a traumatic event didn’t break her spirit.

“I just can’t believe I’m living this story with this child,” Haven’s mother Shelly Shepherd said. “It’s almost seemed like a book or something.”

Haven did what not many can say they’ve done and that’s qualify for the Paralympics. She was right on the bubble of solidifying her spot for Team USA. It was a matter of seconds, but she did it.

“These are usually other people that you don’t know,” Shelly continued, “But this is our daughter, so it’s pretty exciting.”

It’s an experience that might be hard to find the words just knowing everything Haven’s endured to reach this point. But to Haven’s mother, it’s not so much about what Haven can get out of the experience. Instead, it’s the type of experience that she can give to others while competing in the Paralympics.

“I love the fact that some of the big world is also going to get to meet her and get to enjoy some of the things that we’ve enjoyed,” Shelly said.

To Haven, there’s no pressure. She went pro at the age of 14 and has been swimming ever since she was younger. This is just a culmination of the work she’s dedicated to the sport, and it’s an opportunity to take her journey a step further.

“Like there’s no baggage left,” Haven said. “I don’t have the pressure of making the team . . . Like I made it, there’s nothing left to prove besides swimming fast.”

Haven’s family won’t be able to attend the Paralympics in Tokyo due to COVID-19 protocols. But expect Haven’s family of more than 30 members to be ready to go with watch parties, and maybe even custom made t-shirts, as they cheer Haven on in her first appearance in the Paralympics. The Summer Paralympics in Tokyo run from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5.

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