Haven Shepherd was born in Vietnam. When she was still a baby, her parents strapped a bomb to themselves and Haven in an attempt to take their own lives.
“[My] parents had an affair [then] they had me. And, in Vietnam, women can't divorce husbands. So, in their situation, they thought the only way they could be together was to have a family suicide,” USA Para swimmer Haven said to Olympics.com at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
“I was blown 40 feet away from the explosion... I think it's just crazy that all the damage was just done to my legs, nothing else happened to me. I think that's really insane.”
Haven was 14 months old at the time. Six months later she was starting her new life in the U.S. after she was adopted by an American couple Rob and Shelly Shepherd .
"I choose to have challenges in my life. I'm not going to sweep things under the rug" - Haven Shepherd to Olympics.com
Haven Shepherd: I started to smile in the pool
The first time Shepherd started to smile in America was in the swimming pool. From the very beginning, her new parents were honest about where she came from and the dramatic early months of her life.
“I have so much gratitude. I can't really complain. [Sometimes, I think], ' Oh, it was such a hard day', but then I look at myself like, ‘Wow, you need to be thankful to be living this day.’ I could have died back in the explosion,” she told Olympics.com and the Olympic Channel podcast.
Shepherd took sports seriously. Athletics at first, but she wasn’t keen.
“I just I didn't like the sweat going into my eyes,” she said. “I think water just means so much to me because I'm a Pisces.”
The pool is where she is most at home and it’s given her the opportunity to perform at the biggest stage: the Paralympics. She came fifth in the Women's 200m Individual Medley - SM8. Her teammate Jessica Long won the race but Haven is more than satisfied with her performance.
“My ultimate dream has come true… it makes me feel somewhat whole in the sense of I have peace in the water”
Haven Shepherd: A positive mindset
Shepherd thinks it’s important to express who you are regardless of the circumstances of your life. When she feels uncomfortable in a situation, she tries to change her mindset.
“I can think people are staring at me because I don't have legs. Or I can choose, ‘Oh, wow. They're staring at me because they think my legs are just so cool’. And I usually choose the ‘I think I'm so cool’.”
Her parents already had six children before they decided to adopt her.
“I was just the missing puzzle piece of their family… They were like, ‘Hey, why not one more?’”
It makes for very interesting and busy holiday periods. Haven’s brothers and sisters are older and have started families of their own.
“There’s 38 of them in my family… just from my brothers and sisters…. You don't even want to experience Christmas. I mean, [there’s a] stack of pancake Christmas morning.”
Shepherd has made a conscious decision not to dwell on things that hold her back. Instead, she focuses on things that work for her.
“I've learnt that the person who I am now is because I choose joy every single day. I choose to have challenges in my life. I'm not going to sweep things under the rug.
“I'm going to look at life and I'm going to say, ‘OK, Does this situation affect me because I don't have legs or is it because I'm a 18-year-old girl in a social setting where I feel awkward?’ I always look at the brighter side.”