Three young American sisters who live with their mum in a homeless shelter in New York have figuratively and literally jumped hurdles to compete in the Junior Olympics in Houston.
Brooke, 8 Rainn, 20 and Tai Sheppard, 11 live with their mum, Tonia Handy, in a homeless shelter in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
Tonia works as a phone operator and has been raising her family alone for the past decade. According to the Associated Press, the girls’ half-brother was murdered three years ago. Until last year, Tonia had always managed to make ends meet, until when she and the girls were evicted from their apartment in Brooklyn for failing to pay the rent, so had to move into a shelter home.
AP reports the girls train everyday since taking up track and field a year and a half ago. They are all in the top tier of age-group national rankings and all three earned a spot in the Junior Olympic Games, now underway in Houston.
Mother Tonia said it will help get them to college and “doors that maybe I can't open for them."
The temporary shelter home is decorated with the girls' many awards they have won on the track.
The girls were scouted as soon as they started doing track in 2015 by the Brooklyn-based Jeuness Track Club, the club’s founder, an administrative law judge named Jean Bell, recruited each girl without even knowing they were related.
Each has qualified for the Junior Olympics in multiple events. Rainn was the top qualifier for the 3,000-meter run with a time of 10 minutes, 44 seconds - 30 seconds faster than the next-closest qualifier.
Tai runs the 400 and 800, as well as the 80-meter hurdles.
Brooke qualified for the 800, the 1,500 and the high jump, even though the team doesn't have the equipment to allow her to practice. Her only jumps have come in competitions.
The mum Tonia has set up a fundraising page to get her girls to Houston – they are due to leave today (Monday 1 August).
Tonia wrote on the page “You will experience an emotional high when seeing Rainn run the 3000 meter run! For sure, it's a great treat to watch Tai in the 80 meter hurdles! Lil' sister Brooke will be making her debut in the high jump! These young ladies are regional champions and have qualified for the AAU Nationals in Houston! For each child it is approximately $750.00, includes airfare, hotel, & van rentals. This cause, that you're supporting is a "dream come true" for these hardcore athletes! For me, it's a blessing to see my daughter's work so hard for what they want!”