CARTHAGE, Mo. — An 18-year-old girl in Carthage will soon have the opportunity of a lifetime. Haven Shepherd trains at a club in Webb City and is now getting ready to compete on a global stage.
Whether it’s competitively or just for fun, Shepherd swims basically all the time.
“I’ve always felt like I want to retire,” Shepherd said. “I’ve been doing this for so long. But, then I remember I’m 18 and I have competed in big events and have national titles. But, then I also think ‘oh wow, what’s it like to have dry hair for like a week straight? What’s it like not to like chlorine and have ashy skin? That must be nice.”
But all the sacrifices she’s made in her eight-year professional career earned her a spot on Team USA. She will compete in the Paralympic Games.
“I feel good,” Shepherd said. “It just needed to happen and I’m ready for it to be here,” Shepherd said. “I’m not worried. I’m not anxious. I’m just ready to go.”
But how did Haven get to this point?
When she was just 14 months old in Vietnam, her father strapped himself and Haven’s mother to a suicide bomb while holding Shepherd right in between them. The explosion killed her parents, but Shepherd survived.
“I was blown out and all the damage was done to my legs,” Shepherd said. “It’s just purely a miracle that I’m still alive. I was adopted when I was 16 months old. I’ve lived in the U.S. ever since. I don’t find myself complaining a lot because is life is something to be so joyful about. I never really get to see the negative because I always think of what other circumstance I would’ve had.”
Haven didn’t wear prosthetic legs until she was 8-years-old.
“People think it’s the most inconvenient thing in my life,” Shepherd said. “I’m just like everybody else. I put on my legs to walk, you put on your glasses to see. I don’t wake up and just feel ‘aw, I don’t have legs today.”
She played sports like softball and track with them, only to become passionate about an activity where she didn’t need them.
“My parents got me into swimming and it just clicked,” Shepherd said. “It was easy. I got to take my legs off and be free in the water. I had a pool in my backyard growing up so I always knew how to swim. I learned how to swim when I came home at 3 years old. I didn’t need a floatie. It was really important to my dad that all his kids from a very young age knew how to swim. “
When Shepherd turned 13, she started homeschool so she could focus on competitive swimming.
She works on her skills at a USA Swimming Club with her coach Shawn Klosterman.
“We just treat her like everybody else in most ways,” Klosterman said. “But, we have to adapt the practices and technique a little bit. We try to find what works for her and it ends up looking a little different than what the other kids are doing, but it’s been a fun challenge.”
Shepherd gets in the pool around eight times a week. She also does CrossFit three times a week.
“The swimmers who want to be good at it, they do spend a lot of time training,” Klosterman said. “Haven earned it. She put in the work. Team USA is lucky to have her there. She’s a joy to have around. She is a complete goofball. She is a good teammate.”
Leading up to the biggest competition of her life, the coach has some advice for her.
“Leave it all on the pool,” Klosterman said. “You’re going there, you’re representing Team USA, you’ve got to have the best time possible, you’re going to create great memories, but you don’t want to walk away feeling like you had a little more to give. I want her to finish her races and know she gave it everything she had, and however it turns out, come home happy. I’d like to see her come with some medals, but of course, I’m just a coach. I think that either way she is going to go there and have a lot of fun because that’s just what Haven does.”
“I made the team. That’s all I wanted,” Shepherd said. “Now it’s just finishing out strong. I also see on the side like to do fun things you have to do hard things like going to practice is hard. But, going to the Paralympics is a lot of fun. I’m going with all my friends. I told the main coach of the Paralympic swim team that she was so brave for taking six high schoolers to the competition of their life.”
The Paralympic Games will start on Aug. 24 in Tokyo and ends on Sept. 5.