CARTHAGE, Mo. — Haven Shepherd’s life might have ended shortly after it began.
She was born in Vietnam, the results of an affair between her married father and one other lady. For causes that will by no means be totally clear — from potential societal shunning to monetary hardship — her organic mom and father determined to kill themselves and Haven. They strapped suicide bombs to themselves and set them off. Each dad and mom have been killed immediately.
However Haven survived.
She was discovered about 40 toes from their burning dwelling with extreme harm to her legs.
Villagers took her to the closest hospital in Da Nang, the place medical doctors saved her life however could not save her legs. Different sufferers donated to her hospital fund so she might proceed receiving look after almost 40 days.
In the meantime, internationally in Carthage, Missouri, Rob and Shelly Shepherd felt referred to as so as to add one other baby to their household of eight.
Shelly’s pal had began a basis in Vietnam they usually have been opening a handicap shelter. The pal heard about Haven and instructed the Shepherds about her.
Initially, they have been skeptical.
“I used to be like, we now have a lot happening. We would want a child with toes, they have to maintain up,” Shelly mentioned. “After which once I met her, you realize, she’s simply so joyful…and I noticed, it is simply toes, we are able to do that, we are able to convey her into the household.”
At 20 months previous, Haven flew with the Shepherds to america.
They took her to Kids’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas Metropolis to have a surgeon have a look at her wounds.
“[The surgeon] was similar to, ‘I am simply amazed.’ He mentioned, ‘Her amputations are lovely. We could not have finished any higher right here in our hospital.’ And in order that was an enormous blessing,” Shelly mentioned.
Haven blended into the Shepherd household rapidly. Her six older siblings have been all athletes, and Haven needed to play sports activities, too.
At first, she tried working observe, but it surely wasn’t match.
“Seems I actually do not like the warmth and I do not wish to sweat,” Haven mentioned. “I simply bear in mind telling my mother, I used to be like, ‘I am finished. I do not wish to do that.’ I give up on the prime age of eight years previous.”
Haven had been swimming since she was 4 years previous, however till she turned 9, she by no means thought-about competing. At her first meet, she realized she had expertise and really loved doing it.
Swimming additionally had one other profit — she might take off her prosthetic legs for just a few hours.
“Not lots of people notice that sporting prosthetic legs all day is de facto tiring,” Haven mentioned. “And once I get to take my legs off in the course of the day for like two or three hours, that was like bliss to me.”
She began with classes on the native YMCA. Then she transitioned to Berzerker Swimming, a aggressive USA Swimming membership.
At age 13, she set the objective of creating it to the Paralympics.
“She by no means actually wavered from her resolution,” Shelly mentioned. “And it is a grueling schedule. I by no means actually needed to say, ‘sure, you must go to apply.’ She by no means actually questioned it.”
Haven continued to rise inside the ranks of aggressive swimming. When she was 16, she received a silver medal on the 2019 Parapan American Video games in Lima, Peru.
In June of 2021, she competed within the 2020 U.S. Paralympic Staff Trials in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her efficiency earned her a spot on Staff USA.
“It was simply such an extended course of and [it] did not actually hit me till I acquired dwelling,” Haven mentioned. “I knew how excited I used to be, but it surely did not actually hit me since you’re simply so so burdened for that entire time after which it occurred. So you’ve gotten the reduction, and then you definately’re exhausted.”
After years of coaching — together with an additional 12 months due to the pandemic — Haven mentioned she’s prepared to finish the objective she set when she was 13.
“I do not actually have any expectations on myself,” she mentioned. “I simply wish to go in being me and having enjoyable.”
For her mother, it is a reflection of all the exhausting work it took to get up to now.
“Once I take into consideration the place she got here from, the little amputee, simply orphaned woman that we picked up, to how a lot life she has lived in 18 years — that is such a miracle,” Shelly mentioned.
Haven continues to share her constructive spirit and never dwell on the previous.
“I do not have a look at the issues that I’ve misplaced,” Haven mentioned. “I imply, I’ve misplaced a lot in my life. I’ve misplaced my legs, however I’ve by no means let that maintain me again.”
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Video games start Aug. 24. Haven will swim within the 200-meter particular person medley on Aug. 28 and the 100-meter breaststroke on Sept. 1. NBC can have primetime protection in addition to streaming choices for the occasions. For extra particulars, go to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics website.