An amputee teen who survived a suicide bomb is now defying the odds to model and become a Paralympic hopeful.
Haven Shepherd, now 14, was a baby when she lost both legs-below-the-knee from her parents committing suicide by detonating an explosive because their affair would never be accepted.
The little girl, born as Phuong Twi Do, in Vietnam, was going to be put into a shelter by her biological grandparents who were too poor pay for her medical bills and take care of her.
At 20-months-old, Haven was adopted by the Shepherd family who flew 8,500 miles from Carthage in Missouri to bring the little girl home.
Since then, she’s learned to use her prosthetic legs and became an apt sports player, before starting swimming lessons four-years-ago and progressing to specialised training academies.
It’s hoped that Haven will represent the USA at the Paralympic Games in addition to modelling, and she has joined Models of Diversity to show others they should embrace their unique differences and live life to the fullest just like her.
Haven Shepherd, 14, from Missouri lost her legs as a baby in Vietnam when her birth parents detonated a bomb, but she is now a model and Paralympic hopeful
Haven’s parents had an affair and feeling hopeless in their situation, her parents decided to commit a family suicide by strapping bombs to themselves and holding their baby girl
The athlete made the Paralympics Emerging Swim team at the age of 12 and is hoping to participate at the 2020 or 2024 Games
Haven said: ‘I grew up hearing how I lost my leg and felt like it was a normal thing that had happened to others, it was only as the years went on that I realised I’m probably the only one with this story.
‘I tell people the truth, that my parents had an affair and had me, but in Vietnam women cannot divorce, so when they committed suicide and all the damage was done to my legs.
‘It’s a hard pill to swallow but I can’t avoid it and have to tell the truth about what happened.
‘One of my earliest memories is my sisters telling me that while I am different from them, my differences are what make me who I am and special from everyone else.
The teenager participated in track events and is a keen swimmer
Haven’s parents were both killed in the explosion, which left her with no legs
At 20-months-old, Haven was adopted by the Shelly and Rob Shepherd who flew 8,500 miles from Carthage in Missouri to bring the little girl home
‘My family have always been very supportive and taught me not to be held back because I have to use prosthetics.
‘I remember once watching girls playing basketball thinking I couldn’t do it because I didn’t have legs, then one of my sisters said I had to try.
‘She told me that I wasn’t going to sit on the bench feeling sorry for myself, at the time I thought she was being mean but it really helped and is a mentality has stuck with me.
‘Since then I’ve participated in track events, other sports and when I tell people I swim at such a high level they are blown away.
By working with Models of Diversity Haven is hoping to inspire others
From an early age, Haven’t mother Shelly was open with her about how she’d lost her legs
The Paralympic hopeful explained that she feels truly free in the water without her prosthetic legs
‘The thing I love the most about swimming is getting to take off my legs and feel comfortable in the water, I feel free without my prosthetics, I’m in my own world in the water.
‘I’ve also started modelling after realising a bunch of people weren’t happy with who they are, I want them to show them it’s OK to be different.
‘I want them to see the unique things about themselves in a positive way and that diversity is a good thing, if I feel comfortable they can too.’
Parents Shelly and Rob, 56 and 57, found Haven through the Touch A Life Foundation for homeless children in 2005 and flew out to retrieve her from Vietnam.
One of her sisters told Haven she should get involved in sports instead of sitting on the bench feeling sorry for herself, and the advice resonated with the youngster
Haven’s grandparents were too poor to take care of her so she was adopted by the Shepherds
Haven as a baby with her adoptive mother Shelly who heard about her plight through the Touch A Life Foundation for homeless children in 2005
Shelly, a full-time mother-of-seven, said: ‘We heard about what happened to Haven and were told her grandparents were too poor to take care of her.
‘Despite my husband’s reservations about adopting, he fell in love with Haven instantly, she wouldn’t ride in the car unless he was there.
‘Haven wouldn’t even nap unless he was holding her, over time she made us realise that she chose us and that not having legs wasn’t a big deal.’
Her parents thought Haven would need a quiet life and didn’t expect her to participate in sports, but they couldn’t have been more wrong
The talented athlete said she feels truly free when she is in the water
Haven receiving treatment in a hospital in Vietnam as a baby
Shelly says she dreaded telling her daughter the truth about what happened to her parents but tried to make it part of her life.
She added: ‘I always worried about telling her the truth about why she lost her legs, so from the time she was on my hip I told her, I didn’t whisper like it was a secret part of her life.
‘I told her that she was a healthy but impoverished baby, the product of a love affair.
‘Feeling hopeless in their situation, her parents decided to commit a family suicide by strapping bombs to themselves and holding their baby girl.
The aspiring model said she’s hoping to inspire others and banish stereotypes about being disabled
‘The explosion killed them both and caused Haven to lose both of her legs below the knee but miraculously she survived
‘By the time she was five after retelling her story she told me, ‘Well that was stupid’ and after that she was good.’
Until the age of five, Haven refused to wear her prosthetic legs, ever since that moment she’s been defying the odds and even redefined her parents’ perception of her limitations.
Shelly said: ‘You have all these stereotypes about a disabled child, we thought Haven would need a quieter life but she couldn’t be any more opposite.
Haven proves that you don’t have to look like the mainstream models in order to succeed, according to her agency
Haven in hospital in Vietnam: She refused to wear prosthetic legs until she was five-years-old
‘We thought we would have to teach her piano rather than sports but her athletic dreams and goals surpass all our other children.
‘She even made the Paralympics Emerging Swim team at the age of 12 and hopefully will participate at the 2020 or 2024 Paralympics.’
Haven also visits amputees in hospital to help them accept their disabilities, talking to people from the nine-years-old to pension age, and love to help empower them.
Haven said: ‘My prosthetic legs are very noticeable, it’s the first thing you see because they are black and shiny, but it makes me individual.
‘It’s part of me, I can’t wake up and be like I want legs, I have to live with what I have.
The youngster was 20-months-old when she was adopted by a couple from the US
Haven grew up defying the odds and even redefined her parents’ perception of her limitations
‘I go to hospitals to meet other amputees, when I show them I can still walk and live a very full exciting life, after talk to them it’s like their world has changed.
‘It’s a feeling I can’t describe, you’re definitely in the moment, you see their moods change and them getting hope by me showing them what their lives can be like.’
Since started swimming at the age of ten, Haven was scouted and is training to compete as part of the USA Paralympic team ready for the 2020 games in Tokyo, Japan.
The Shepherd family say they are immensely proud of their daughter’s achievements and since working with Models of Diversity she hopes to inspire others.
After learning to embrace who she is, Haven is hoping to set an example to others
Angel Sinclair, founder of Models of Diversity has described Haven as a true example to others
Haven said: ‘If people with disabilities and able-bodied see me having fun without my legs and modelling, I’m hoping it will make them happy and realise smaller things don’t matter.
‘Lots of people have told me that I needed to feel comfortable and embrace who I am, I’ve done that now and want to pass it onto others.’
Models of Diversity (MoD) is the campaign for better representation of all kinds of people in the fashion, beauty and media industry.
They represent people of all ages, races, body sizes, disabilities and non-traditional gender identification.
Shelly, a full-time mother-of-seven, admitted her husband initially had reservations about adopting a disabled child but was quickly won over by Haven
The youngster started swimming lessons four-years-ago and progressed to specialised training academies
Haven said that her prosthetics are part of her and that she has to accept and work with what she’s got, rather than wishing she had legs
The youngster has shown a huge aptitude for sports since an early age
Haven is hoping her example will inspired other disabled young people to realise they can achieve anything
Angel Sinclair, founder of MoD, said: ‘Haven’s pursuit of her ambitions despite adversity is an example to us all never to give up, as an athlete or a model.
‘She’s the embodiment of the idea that you don’t have to look like the mainstream models in order to be a great a model.
‘She is just so inspiring, anyone who learns about her story should be left in no doubt that we all lose out when we arbitrarily limit our ideas of who should be an a particular role, whether athlete, model or anything else.’
For more information visit: modelsofdiversity.org