Community surprises swimmer Haven Shepherd with send-off to 2020 Paralympics

CARTHAGE, Mo. & JOPLIN, Mo. –People in Carthage were up extra early Saturday morning to cheer on Carthage’s own Haven Shepherd, who is heading to Tokyo for the 2020 Paralympics.

And Shepherd, can’t wait to begin.

“I feel good, I feel ready to leave, it’s just something you talk about for so long and now it’s finally happening, and I’m just excited to get this adventure started,” the swimmer said.

Shepherd was escorted around the Carthage square on a fire truck, while the community cheered her on.

But the parade in Carthage is where the celebration just began, The Joplin regional airport is where things really took off.

“Our coach sent out a reminder and he was like hey we’re all gonna send her off and I was like I wanna be a part of this like I don’t wanna skip out, this is something so surreal and so cool like I won’t get a second chance at this,” said Shepherd’s teammate, Sophia Whitesell.

Teammates of Shepherd surprised the athlete before she boarded her first flight.

“We were all gonna dress up in crazy red white and blue, bring everyone’s friends everyone’s family, and come and send her off and she actually did not know about it which is great but also I think we freaked her out a little bit at first, but I think she totally loved it and I’m so glad we did it,” said teammate Skyler Sundy.

“She walked through the doors, she looked back at us and just had a big grin on her face,” Whitesell added.

Now, Shepherd is focusing on having fun and enjoying her paralympic experience.

“You know I just wanna go in being myself, that’s what I’ve done for the past eight years I’ve been swimming, I’ve just been myself and that fact that I got to be on this level just not putting too much pressure on myself, and I’m not gonna go in with too big expectations you know I’ve just gotta swim fast and that’s what I do at every competition so I just think of this as another race you know-nothings different.”