NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Time Inc.’s (NYSE:TIME) Sports Illustrated Kids has named Tai, Rainn and Brooke Sheppard, of Brooklyn, New York, the 2016 SportsKids of the Year. The Sheppard sisters—aged 11, 10 and 9, respectively—were selected from among thousands of entries for overcoming substantial obstacles to qualify for this year’s AAU Junior Olympic Games and for each individually medaling in track and field events. The sisters appear on the cover of the December issue of Sports Illustrated Kids and are featured in a cover story and special SI Kids video production that spotlights their remarkable optimism and achievement at a time when they have been living with their mother in a two-bedroom unit in a homeless shelter. They are the first set of sisters to win this award and the second set of siblings; brothers Conner and Cayden Long were honored in 2012. The new issue of SI Kids hits newsstands on Monday, November 28, and the new cover and SportsKid feature are available online now at SIKIDS.com/skoty.
Tai, Rainn and Brooke Sheppard will be honored alongside their mother, Tonia Handy, at a special SportsKid of the Year event at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on December 12. They will also be recognized with the Sports Illustrated 2016 Sportsperson of the Year, the recipient of the 2016 SI Muhammad Ali Legacy Award and other top names in sports at the SI Sportsperson of the Year ceremony to take place at the Barclays Center later that evening. Goldfish® Flavor Blasted® crackers is the presenting sponsor of the SI Kids SportsKid of the Year program.
The Sheppard sisters began living in a homeless shelter with their mother after having been evicted from their apartment in September 2015. They began their track and field careers when a babysitter signed them up for a meet in January 2015 as a fun, free activity. After the meet, they were invited to join the Jeuness Track Club and subsequently qualified for the 2016 AAU Junior Olympics in Houston, Texas. Tai ran the 400-, 800- and 80-meter hurdles; Rainn ran the 3,000; and Brooke participated in the 800, 1,500 and high jump. Each girl placed within the top 15 in each event, and Rainn won the 3,000-meter run for the 11-year-old girls’ division. The girls are also heavily involved in activities outside of sports, ranging from chess and book clubs to playing the piano and performing in school plays.
"This is such an amazing story. You can’t hear it and not be moved by the dedication that Tai, Rainn and Brooke have shown,” said Mark Bechtel, Managing Editor of Sports Illustrated Kids. “We hear a lot about the obstacles that athletes have to overcome to succeed. But very few have coped with what these sisters—and their mom—have faced. They’ve done it with grace and poise. Their efforts have been phenomenal—and inspiring. For these reasons, and for their accomplishments on the track, the Sheppard sisters are the SportsKids of the Year."
The three sisters spoke to SI Kids about their accomplishments and future sports goals:
- Tai wants to qualify for the AAU Junior Olympic Games every year. She placed second in the 80-meter hurdles in her age group in Houston in July, her second time competing at the meet. “Since I qualified for my first year, I’m like, I can do this,” she says. “I know I can.”
- “I plan to go to the Olympics one day in [a distance race],” says Rainn, who returned from Houston with a gold medal in the 3,000.
- “My goals are to get faster as a runner and jump higher,” says Brooke, who placed second in the high jump in Houston.
The annual SportsKid of the Year award was introduced in 2007 to recognize exemplary young athletes who excel on the field, in the classroom and in service to their communities. This is the 10th year of the award. In honor of the anniversary, SI Kids has retroactively chosen famous athletes who could have been SportsKid of the Year prior to 2007; see those choices and the mock SI Kids covers featuring LeBron James, Eli Manning, Dominique Dawes, Michelle Wie, Bryce Harper and more here.
Past recipients of the SI Kids SportsKid of the Year award include the following:
2015: Reece Whitley (Lafayette Hill, PA)—Whitley is a standout swimmer and 2020 Olympic hopeful who has medaled in Junior Championship meets and made the semifinals of the 2016 Olympic Trials at 16. He was honored for being a role model and mentor for younger swimmers in his community and beyond.
2014: Mo'ne Davis (Philadelphia, PA)—Davis, the honor roll student who became only the fourth girl in history to play in the Little League World Series, the first girl in 75 years to win a game in the Series and the first girl to pitch a shutout, illustrated for the world that no matter age, gender or race, everyone has the ability to make an impact and inspire. Today, Davis continues to pave the road for young female athletes and is outspoken about gender equality and sports. She has turned her sights to basketball and hopes to play in the WNBA someday.
2013: Jack Wellman (Newtown, CT)—While sidelined with a neck injury, this three-sport star uplifted the Newtown community by volunteer coaching the local youth wrestling team in the aftermath of a tragedy that took one of their teammates. Jack is now a wrestler at Newtown High School.
2012: Brothers Conner and Cayden Long (White House, TN)—The elder brother, Conner, competes in youth triathlons side by side with Cayden, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Conner pushes Cayden in a stroller during the run portion of the competition, pulls Cayden in a raft during the swim and in a trailer during the bike race. The two recently helped develop an accessible playground in their hometown, and their mother wrote a book about what Conner and Cayden have taught her.
2011: Noah Flegel (Lighthouse Point, FL)—Flegel, who won the World Wakeboard Association's World Championship, was equally impressive in the classroom and dedicated much of his time to organizing and cooking meals for the homeless in his community. Flegel still competes in wakeboard competitions, and he recently won the 2016 Supra Boats Pro Wakesurf Tour title.
2010: Jessica Aney (Rochester, MN)—Aney became the first female to receive the honor. A two-sport athlete with a perfect academic record, Jessica was one of the top-ranked tennis players nationally in her age group and excelled at an elite level in ice hockey. Aney now plays tennis for the University of North Carolina.
2009: Austin McCarthy (Ludington, MI)—McCarthy scored 430 points with 63 hat tricks in only three years of playing ice hockey. Off the ice, Austin was very involved in his community, working at fundraising events to benefit his local hockey association and to boost interest in hockey among local children. Today, Austin plays hockey for Ludington High School.
2008: Derek Andrews (Buffalo, NY)—Despite suffering from an unknown muscle disorder, Andrews inspired the entire city of Buffalo through his participation in baseball, hockey, soccer, swimming and gymnastics.
2007: Brock Heffron (Chandler, AZ)—Heffron became the International Cycling Union World Champion and the USA Cycling Champion in his age class. Away from the track he was a straight-A student and played on local football and baseball teams. Now, after playing for his high school’s football and baseball teams, Brock is a linebacker for Wabash College.
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