Three homeless sisters worked hard and managed to make it to the AAU Junior Olympic Games. Meanwhile, a stranger bought a plane ticket for their mother so that she won’t miss her daughters compete.
The Sheppard sisters – Tai, 11, Rainn, 10, and Brooke, 8 – started training in track and field in January 2015. This year they managed to make it to the Junior Olympics where they compete in various races. Brooke was even qualified to compete in the high jump. This event involves practicing with equipment her training team doesn’t own. In other words, the only practice Brooke had was during competitions.
The three sisters live with their mother, Tonia Handy, 46, in a shelter in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn since 2015. They had the chance to attend the games in Humble, Texas, thanks to their training team’s support and a GoFundMe campaign. But the girls’ mother couldn’t get time off work or afford a plane ticket to go and watch her daughters compete.
Then Ken Smaltz Jr., a rare coin business owner who also runs an Alzheimer’s foundation, appeared at Handy’s door. He had read about the family in the newspaper and told Handy that he could buy a plane ticket for her.
Smaltz said that his intentions were not to be made public but still said that it’s nice to help others.
So on August 1, Handy surprised her daughter Rainn by showing up just before she was getting ready to run a 3000m race. Rainn couldn’t believe it. Mother and daughter hugged for long and then walked together to the track. Soon after their reunion, Rainn won the gold medal.
The Sheppard family go through a tough time. They are forced to live in the shelter since they were evicted from their apartment. They share one room in a two-room unit because the second room is infested with cockroaches. 3 years ago the girls’ 17-year-old half-brother was shot fatally in the street. The girls’ babysitter signed them up for a free track to keep them busy. Jean Bell, the founder of the Jeuness Track Club in Brooklyn gave the girls a chance and they proved to be worthy of it although their family has hardly anything to eat.