TO BE ELIGIBLE TO COMPETE IN the Paralympic Games, going on through September 5 in Tokyo, an athlete must have at least one of 10 impairments. Some Paralympians were born with these conditions, while others acquired them through disease or accident. Three Team USA Paralympians are members of a third group: those who experienced life-changing violence. Their individual stories and circumstances are different, but each of them has endured nightmares that easily could have destroyed them to become elite athletes competing at the top of their respective sports.
Haven Shepherd, 18
SWIMMER CARTHAGE, MISSOURI
“I WAS BORN IN VIETNAM TO TWO parents who were married to other people and they had an affair and had me. The story that we’re told is that they thought the only way they could be together was to commit a family suicide and they strapped bombs on themselves in a thatched-roof hut and held me. They died, but I survived with all the damage done to my lower legs. It happened when I was 14 months old. I was with my maternal grandparents after that and then was adopted when I was 20 months old by Gary and Shelly Shepherd from Missouri. They were with a foundation called Touch a Life and they just wanted to come with their friend Pam to rescue this little girl who needed to come to America for medical treatment. They fell in love with me in the process and adopted me.
All the family pictures I have start from my first Christmas back in Carthage. I had a normal American childhood in a place I really love and would describe as a Hallmark movie town. I have four sisters and two brothers. I’m the youngest and the only one who’s adopted in my family so I get to say I’m the favorite. All of them are also athletes.
I got into swimming when I was 10 years old. I did track for a long time but I realized that I hated it, I was hot, I was sweaty, so my mom put me in a swimming clinic and I fell in love with it. I swim about nine times a week for two hours per session and lift weights three days a week. I don’t have to wear my legs in the pool which is so special because I have to drag around my legs every day. It’s just such a hassle. I look forward to these hours in the pool, which make me feel so free.”
Beatrice De Lavalette, 22
DRESSAGE EQUESTRIAN LOXAHATCHEE, FLORIDA
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