By Savanah Bandy

Representing the USA! Carthage, Missouri’s own Haven Shepherd, 18, recently competed at the Tokyo Paralympics, where she placed fifth in the 200-meter individual relay.

“Going to Tokyo was a dream come true and a long-term goal achieved,” she said. “I’ve learned so much on this journey about self-discipline and self-confidence! I didn’t win a medal for my swimming this time, but the value of the experience is priceless to me.”

Haven has been a double amputee since she was 14 months old, but that has never stopped her from going after her dreams. 

Her story began in Vietnam 18 years ago. 

“I was born in Vietnam to two parents that had an affair and had me,” she said in an interview with CNN September 1. “In Vietnam, women can’t divorce husbands, and so for their circumstance, they thought the thing that would be best for their family was to commit a family suicide … They strapped bombs onto themselves, and they held me, and I was blown 40 feet away from the accident, and all the damage was done to my legs.”

At 20 months old, Haven was adopted by Rob and Shelly Shepherd of Carthage. Her family discovered her love for the water when she was a toddler, and she has been swimming competitively since the age of 10. Today, her talent and drive have her competing on the world stage.

“(I do) nine practices in a week, and I’m dead tired, but I still look forward to it,” she told CNN. “Swimming still makes me smile to this day … there’s no sound, you don’t hear anything, and it’s just so special to know that a sport has your back.”

She said she has never been held back because she is a double amputee. In fact, she views her disability as “one of the greatest gifts that I’ve ever had. 

“I think of my biological mom’s sacrifice. I was always this baby, I was always a very happy, bubbly baby … and I look at her sacrifice of her life for me,” she told CNN. “I got to live this amazing life, I am here at the Paralympics, I got to have an amazing childhood.

“I am super patriotic, so the opportunity to wear the red, white and blue and represent the USA made me feel so honored and proud!”