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Haven Shepherd diving into a swimming pool

April is Limb Loss Awareness Month! Based on a recent study, there are more than 5.6 million people living with limb loss and limb difference in the United States. Of that ~5.6 million, there are ~2.3 million people with limb loss and ~3.4 million people who were born with their limb difference. And every year, there are approximately 185,000 amputations in the US.

We are honored to support this community through our faith-based retreats. Through the years, we have met so many inspiring overcomers, and we know that each of their stories has a special opportunity to touch the lives of others. As we embark upon Limb Loss Awareness Month, this April we will be sharing many powerful, moving, and inspiring Stories of Hope from some of the remarkable young men and women with limb difference we’ve met over the years at our retreats!

For Haven Shepherd, 2018 Beautifully Flawed retreat attendee, living life as an amputee is all she’s ever known  but that hasn’t stopped her by any means. It’s a life she’s embraced to the full, a life of looking challenge straight in the eye and saying “game on,” a life of overcoming odds, inspiring young people, and accomplishing world-renowned achievements, all with an unwavering trust and faith in God.

When Haven was only 14 months old, a horrific tragedy took place. As a victim of a murder/suicide bombing caused by one or both of her biological parents who died instantly as a result, Haven was thrown 40 feet out of her family’s burning hut which almost cost her her life. By God’s grace, she survived even after sustaining life threatening injuries, but in the process, she lost both her legs below the knee. This incident changed her life forever but in a way many wouldn’t have expected. Again, by God’s grace, what started as a tragedy turned into something that would launch Haven into her calling, her purpose, and birth in her an unmatched overcoming spirit, fulfilling the promise found in Isaiah 61:3: “He will give a crown of beauty for ashes”.

Haven Shepherd as a toddler

At 20 months old after being brought to the USA on a medical visa, Haven was adopted by a wonderful family in Missouri becoming the youngest of 7 children. Family is truly a cornerstone for Haven and today, she’s extremely passionate about adoption. Although being a young amputee came with it’s fair share of challenges, Haven didn’t let those stop her. At 10 years old, she dove right into swimming which quickly became both her passion and one of her life goals — to swim for Team USA at the Paralympics. Soon enough, Haven was on a strict schedule undergoing intense training almost every day as a competitive swimmer, keeping in mind she was also navigating everyday life as a teenager, going to high school, doing homework, maintaining friendships, and yet her eyes were fixed on her goals.

At 15 years old, in the midst of her training, Haven ended up hearing about the Beautifully Flawed Retreat and applied to attend in 2018. The retreat stands out in her memories like a breath of fresh air, a time set apart to simply just be with God and be in community with other amputee/limb different girls just like her, “The retreat was really special because it was one of the few things I got to do that wasn’t around my swimming. I could just go and be with the other girls and focus on God. I didn’t have to compete or be performing in any way. Anytime we get to invest time in our relationship with God it is time well spent. Those were great memories with great girls!”

Two years after attending the retreat, her dream became a reality. After 8 years of dedicated training, and with the faithful support of her family cheering her on the whole way, Haven swam for Team USA in the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo at the young age of 18 years old! And it was only just the beginning. Since then, she’s graduated from high school, gotten her own apartment in Springfield, Missouri, had modeling and motivational speaking opportunities to encourage young people with limb differences, and is currently swimming almost every day training for the upcoming 2024 Paralympics in Paris this summer. 

Haven Shepherd in Team USA swim gear

There is so much to admire about Haven. Her perseverance, her unshakeable commitment and unrelenting determination to accomplish her goals as an amputee are undoubtedly on the list and what one might think of first. Yet, that’s not all. Haven’s faith in God as well as the strength, grace, and confidence she carries, her heart for family and speaking into young women’s lives reminding them of their worth, potential, and their “beauty in flaws” is just as remarkable and truly inspiring.

“One of my biggest physical accomplishments is going to the 2020 Paralympics… but I feel my biggest accomplishment emotionally is truly accepting myself and being confident in my physical differences. I actually love being an amputee. My goals have been swimming, but my dream is to find my husband, build a family and a home. My family is really close. I have 21 nieces and nephews and want to add to that number for my parents. I love speaking, especially to young people about confidence, being yourself and embracing your differences. I’m not totally sure what I will do after I retire from swimming, but I am really looking forward to it, whatever it is. God has always been so faithful to show me where I need to be so I am sure He won’t let me down this time either.”

-Haven Shepherd

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