Meet the Sheppard Sisters, Who Haven't Let Living in a Homeless Shelter Keep Them From the Junior Olympics

Image via GoFundMe
Image via GoFundMe

Hey Internet, meet Brooke, Rainn, and Tai Sheppard. All three live with their mom in a homeless shelter in Bushwick, Brooklyn. All three have kicked enough ass in their respective track events that they’re headed to the Junior Olympics in Houston.


The sisters live with their mother, 46-year-old Tonia Handy, who works as a phone operator at a car service and has been raising her family alone for the past decade. These already difficult circumstances took an even rougher turn three years ago, when the girls’ half-brother was murdered. According to the AP:

She always managed to make ends meet, though, until early last year, when she and the girls were evicted from their apartment in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant section for failing to pay the rent, landing them first in a motel shelter in Queens and then in the apartment shelter on a gritty Bed-Stuy street.

“The first time we got there, there was just roaches everywhere,” Tai says. “Every time I looked on the floor, a roach. And every time I looked on the ceiling there was a roach. It was horrible.”

The three got into track last year with the help of their babysitter, who wanted to find them an activity that didn’t require any entry fees. It only took a few practices before they were picked up by the Jeuness Track Club, the goal of which is to keep its members focused and prime them for college scholarships.

The club’s founder, an administrative law judge named Jean Bell, recruited each girl without even knowing they were related.

Each sister qualified for multiple events—Rain, 10, was the top qualifier for the 3,000 meters, crushing the next closest competitor by a full 30 seconds. Tai, 11, will run the 400 and the 800, as well as the 80-meter hurdles. Brooke, 8, will compete in the 800, the 1,500 and the high jump—despite the fact that her team lacks high jump equipment on which to practice.

The sisters headed to Houston with their team on Sunday, but Handy, unfortunately, won’t be joining them.

“I’m not going because the shelter has a curfew and I still have to work,” Handy says. “It’s not that kind of job where you can take time off. You don’t go, you don’t get paid.”


The sisters have a GoFundMe page to help get them to the games, and though the $3,000 goal has already been reached, it appears that donations can still be made.

Just because Handy can’t go doesn’t mean she won’t be watching her budding champions via live stream, and she’s confident they’ll prevail over the competition.


“They’re about to tear that up,” she told the AP. “I’m telling you, when these girls hit the big stage, they show off. They do not back down.”



I know this is supposed to be a feel good story and I am happy for the girls, but I can’t feel any joy. Are they coming back to live at the shelter? I just feel massively uncomfortable that we are expecting these girls (and one as little as 8) to physically work and push their bodies for 7-10 years for an opportunity to rise up above their circumstances. If they cannot maintain it, we forget they exist? Discard them? Punish them for not achieving academically while living in the roach filled shelter?

I see their faces and I cry. No child in a country as rich as the US should ever live what they have lived and are living.