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Sisters Overcome Hardship of Being Homeless to Achieve Academic, Athletic Greatness

The Sheppard sisters pose with coach Jean Bell and her sister, fellow coach Karel Lancaster Sports Illustrated for Kids

The Sheppard sisters pose with coach Jean Bell and her sister, fellow coach Karel Lancaster (Al Tielemans/Sports Illustrated Kids)

 

 

Three young Black sisters have resisted the pitfalls of their circumstances to achieve greatness as star athletes and cover models.

According to Sports Illustrated Kids, runners Tai, Rainn and Brooke Sheppard are siblings whose goals soar higher than their past tribulations.

But the shift wasn’t easy. In 2013, their 17-year-old half-brother died from gunfire, and the family wound up in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn, New York, with their mother, Tonia Handy, in Sept. 2015. Upon their arrival, they faced an infestation of vermin that Handy had to exterminate herself.

However, after overcoming such adversity, the girls found their way to an indoor track meet last winter. Coached by Jean Bell as members of the Jeuness Track Club, it was then that their love of racing blossomed.

The sisters have achieved astonishing results as runners and have now set their sights even higher. Eleven-year-old Tai and 10-year-old Rainn each qualified in the 4×400 relay at the Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympic Games in 2015, where they helped lead their team to a gold medal. This past year, Rainn also earned gold in the 3,000 meters.

Tai said she would like to qualify for the Junior Olympics each year, and Rainn hopes to go back to the AAU Games.

“I plan to go to the Olympics one day in [a distance race],” Tai said. “My track and field goals are just to keep getting emotionally and physically stronger. It’s all about what’s inside, in your mind.”

Not to be outdone, youngest sister Brooke, 9, also seeks to improve her endurance.

“My goals are to get faster as a runner and jump higher,” she said. “For college, I would want to stay nearby, so I can see how the team’s doing.”

The Sheppard sisters Sports Illustrated for Kids

The Sheppard sisters (Sports Illustrated Kids)

But athletics is not the only area where the Sheppard sisters shine. Handy said they earn stellar grades, too. Because of that, she initially had reservations about her daughters joining the team.

“The first thing I thought about was, ‘Will their education be interrupted?'” she said. “Because these are great kids. 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.”

That proved not to be a problem. The girls all earn A’s and B’s in their classes, and their training has led them to branch out into other activities, including participating in a school performance of “Alice in Wonderland.”

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