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'Sports Illustrated Kids' Names Brooklyn Sisters SportsKids of the Year

'Sports Illustrated Kids' Names Brooklyn Sisters SportsKids of the Year

Sports Illustrated Kids has named Brooklyn natives Tai, Rainn, and Brooke Sheppard, “SportsKids of the Year" for 2016. The trio are the second set of siblings to win the honor.

The announcement was made on Nov. 28 by The View’s Whoopi Goldberg and revealed on the Time Square Jumbotron, according to

The Sheppard sisters (ages 9, 10, and 11) began living in a homeless shelter with their mother after being evicted from their apartment in September 2015. They started their track and field careers when a babysitter signed them up for a meet in January 2015 as a fun, free activity.

They were then invited to join the Jeuness Track Club and eventually 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.

“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, in an announcement. “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 girls’ mom, Tonia Handy, has raised her daughters on her own since before Brooke was born. Three years ago, their half-brother was shot and killed at the age of 17. And while Handy works hard, they have lived in a two-bedroom unit in a homeless shelter since last September. 

Before starting on the track team, the Sheppard girls showed no interest in sports. They enjoyed participating in a chess club after school and playing the piano. Tai even started her own book club for half a dozen students in fourth grade.

Last winter, their babysitter registered them to run in indoor track meets. They had a great time, and also caught the attention of Coach Jean Bell. While their mom was initially reluctant to sign her kids up for the team—she didn’t want it to interfere with their school work—she couldn’t deny how much the girls excelled during their practices. 

The sisters have earned medals and trophies at local and regional races—all while maintaining A’s and B’s in school and participating in additional extracurricular activities. 

“That’s one of the things that I really appreciate about them being in the sport,” Handy told SI Kids. “They’re good girls. And being with this group of girls at the track, at track practice—they respect one another.”

Tai, Rainn, and Brooke are determined to go even further with their track careers. Tai told SI Kids that she wants to qualify for the AAU Junior Olympic Games every year, while Brooke wants to run faster and jump higher, and Rainn dreams of going to the Olympics one day. 

“My track and field goals are just to keep getting emotionally and physically stronger,” Rainn told SI Kids. “It’s all about what’s inside, in your mind. You have to say: 'You can do this, you can do this.'”

The sisters and their mother will be honored at a special ceremony at Barclays Center on Dec. 12. 


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Brooklyn natives Tai, Rainn, and Brooke Sheppard, Sports Illustrated Kids “SportsKids of the Year.” 

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Author: Linda DiProperzio has written extensively on parenting issues for Parents, American Baby, Parenting, and Family Circle, among others. She lives in New York with her husband and two sons. See More

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