TOKYO • When Haven Shepherd was just 14 months old, her parents strapped a bomb to themselves and held her in their arms in an attempted family suicide in Vietnam.
The couple were reportedly in an extramarital relationship and believed that if they could not be together, they should all die.
Her mother and father were killed by the blast but Shepherd survived, although both her legs were amputated below the knee as a result of her injuries.
She was adopted by Shelly and Rob Shepherd who relocated her to Carthage, Missouri to live with four older sisters and two brothers.
“I’ve always joked with my siblings (that) I’m the miracle child, I’m the favourite with mum and dad,” the Vietnamese-American, now 18, told the Olympic Information Service.
There are no feelings of resentment. “That’s a life I never lived. I am just so thankful I was saved. I didn’t go into shock and I only lost my legs. I could have lost my life,” she added. “You always have to look at the positives of life: I know I had a really bad circumstance but I got out, I got that second chance.”
Shepherd is set to compete in her final Paralympic Games event in the women’s SB7 100m breaststroke today, having made her debut in the SM8 200m individual medley last weekend, finishing fifth in the final.
It comes two years after the teenager claimed two silvers and a bronze medal at the Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru.
A gold will surpass that achievement but she is not putting any pressure on herself in Tokyo.
“My goals here are just to be myself and have fun,” she said. “I am not going to come in with huge expectations of myself because if you set expectations, you are always going to be disappointed.
“You cannot control life, you can only control how you respond to things. Everything in your life is a choice. I could be in that call room, I could be so psyched out and filled with fear but if I choose to know that I can have fun in this race, even though it’s really intense, then I won.”
Shepherd, who also competes in CrossFit and works as a model, wants to inspire others in a world where there is so much emphasis on body image.
“When I modelled for (American brand) Tommy Hilfiger, I had this realisation that this perfect body does not (really) exist; only a handful of people have this type of body and this lifestyle,” she said.
“If you really look around, all of us have little bumps and bruises all over us and we are all imperfect.
“I love my opportunity to show that anybody can do literally anything they want.”
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