She Survived Suicide Bombing in Vietnam as a Baby — Now Paralympian Haven Shepherd Is Competing for Team USA

Haven Shepherd will be representing Team USA for the first time in Tokyo, swimming the 100m breaststroke and 200m individual medley races

haven shepherd

For Haven Shepherd, faith is more than just her middle name. It's a word she wants people, especially young girls, to think about when they hear her story.

"If you have faith in yourself, you can push through," Shepherd tells PEOPLE.

At 13 years old, Shepherd told herself that she would be a Paralympic athlete, and today she's part of Team USA.

That faith has pushed her through a life with challenges that began as a baby in Vietnam. At 14 months old, her birth parents held their healthy baby girl between them and detonated a suicide bomb. The force, she's been told, propelled her into the air.

Her parents died, and she lost both of her legs. Yet she says that she doesn't carry resentment for what happened. "That's a life I never lived; I don't remember it," she says.

Her birth parents had an affair and believed that if they couldn't be together, they all had to die. Six months later, her adopted parents Rob and Shelly Shepherd, gave her every reason to live.

After five years of training, often twice a day, Shepherd will be representing Team USA for the first time in Tokyo, swimming the 100m breaststroke and 200m individual medley races.

"My parents gave me the world," Shepherd says, "and they put me in every single sport."

Growing up with six older and very sporty brothers and sisters, Shepherd was given prosthetic legs by a nonprofit at a young age and took off running. Between all the sweat and her sore legs, Shepherd realized at age 9 that she hated to run. She quit, but her parents insisted on another sport.

With a big pool in the backyard of her family's Carthage, Missouri, home, Shepherd started swimming. Swim lessons turned into a club team, and her journey to become an elite swimmer began.

Like most teenagers, Shepherd's social life is her friends, her phone and the constant buzzing of texts and emails. At swim practice, all of that noise goes away. The pool is where Shepherd feels free in the "nothingness" of the water, she says, where there's no sound and no need for her prosthetic legs. "I get my Zen back," she shares.

Looking ahead to Tokyo, Shepherd is proud of her dedication to training over the years, and her optimism is contagious. Shepherd's family will stay in Missouri together to watch her Paralympic debut.

"If I leave Tokyo with my head held high, that's worth more to me than a gold medal," she says.

She's done the work and feels confident. "Faith is believing without seeing, and I've had this belief that I'm going to do well," she says.

To learn more about all the Paralympic hopefuls, visit The Tokyo Paralympics begin August 24th on NBC.

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