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Jun. 24—What’s the feeling like for an athlete to be Tokyo-bound?

“I told my mom (Shelly) I felt like I just gave birth,” Haven Shepherd said, laughing.

After five years of intense and maybe even at times excruciating training in the swimming pool, Shepherd’s goal has been met.

The 18-year-old Carthage resident earned a spot on Team USA. She will compete in the Paralympic Games, which will start on Aug. 24 in Tokyo and end on Sept. 5.

“I found out with everybody else,” Shepherd said. “I was definitely not the favorite to go to Tokyo. It was a really big surprise. After I found out, my mom was filming me and that was just my natural reaction (in the Facebook announcement). I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock.

“I was like, ‘Wow, okay. This is rewarding.’ I understand why I woke up for 5 a.m. practices every day. This is my reward. I feel some gratitude. I’m proud of myself for pulling it through this last year.”

Shepherd swims for Webb City’s Berzerker Swimming. She found out she was on the national team following the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials in Minneapolis this past weekend.

Even though she fell short of the national team at the 2016 Paralympics, Shepherd was bound and determined to flip the script this time around. After a “disappointing” performance in the 100 breaststroke, she finished three seconds under the automatic qualifying time in the 200 individual medley.

“I gave it my all,” she said. “I really had nothing to lose at that meet. I didn’t really walk in with a game plan. I went into it with my head down and swam my heart out. I kept telling myself, ‘You made it here. You need to finish strong even if you make the team or you don’t.'”

Once the Team USA Paralympic swimming team was named, Shepherd remained in Minneapolis for a few more days as the team went through what she described as a “summer camp.”

“With COVID, they had to give us a lot of information about what we are going to expect in the next couple of months,” Shepherd said. ” It was a lot of information about the biggest event of my life.”

Shepherd, whose story is nothing short of inspiring and remarkable, was adopted at 13 as a toddler from Vietnam by Rob and Shelly Shepherd after she survived a bomb blast that was ignited by one of her parents in a suicide attempt. Both her biological parents died in the explosion.

Her legs were damaged in the blast and required amputation just below both knees. Clearly that hasn’t deterred Shepherd in her quest for greatness.

She returned to Carthage late Wednesday night and will get the opportunity to rest before she heads out to Tokyo in August.

“I’m excited to sleep in my own bed, see my puppy, my daddy and my family,” Shepherd said. “It will be so rewarding and satisfying. I feel like I can rest easy at night now.”

A Team USA celebration meal also lies in Shepherd’s future plans with her family.

“We are going to eat at P.F. Changs,” Shepherd said. “It’s my tradition to eat there after I come home from a big meet.”

Better double up on the shrimp because there’s a lot to celebrate.