How 3 homeless sisters became Sports Illustrated 'SportsKids of the Year' [VIDEO]
Overcoming odds and real-life hurdles are a breeze for the Sheppard sisters.
Tai (11), Rainn (10) and Brooke Sheppard (9) are no strangers to overcoming hurdles on and off the field.
The three sisters crushed the competition at this year's Junior Olympics, but getting there didn't come with ease. Three years ago, the girls lost their 17-year-old half-brother to gun violence. And their mom raised them on her own from a two-bedroom unit in a Brooklyn homeless shelter since last September.
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Before taking any interest in track and field, the girls were participants in an after school chess club, played the piano and had a love for books. The course of their lives changed when their babysitter signed them up for indoor track meets. What began as a just for fun sport, took on a greater meaning once the sisters caught the eye of their now coach, Jean Bell, at the Colgate Women's Games.
With initial hestitancy, their mom, Tonia Handy wondered how athletics would impact the girls' education.
"The first thing I thought about was, Will their education be interrupted? Because these are great kids,” Handy said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “When it comes to schoolwork, they are No. 1. They were never into sports, so I was kind of leery, but [the parents and coaches] were so welcoming. It was beautiful. I took them to a practice, and they had the time of their lives. I never thought they could run so fast!"
From there the girls trained at Bell's all-girls Brooklyn-based track club soon racking up medals and trophies at local and regional races. Tai and Rainn led their team to gold at the AAU Junior Olympic Games in Norfolk, Va. The three sisters also qualified for the AAU meet in Houston with the help of a GoFundMe campaign to fund the trip.
"They are the most optimistic people I’ve ever seen. Nothing gets them down. They’re going to go far no matter what," Coach Bell said. Because of their courage and athleticism, the sisters are the faces of next month's Sports Illustrated Kids cover. The trio rightfully earned the 2016 "Sportskids of the Year" honor among thousands of entries.
And to think, they've only been doing this for two years.
"I plan to go to the Olympics one day in [a distance race],” said Rainn in Sports Illustrated. “My track and field goals are just to keep getting emotionally and physically stronger. It’s all about what’s inside, in your mind. You have to say: You can do this, you can do this."