BROOKLYN — What started as their babysitter’s idea to fill their afternoons a year and a half ago is propelling them to a future they could not have dreamed of.
Now, five days a week, three Brooklyn sisters lace up their spikes and hit the track of the Boys and Girls High School.
Tai, Rainn and Brooke have all risen to the top of their age groups and are headed to compete in the Junior Olympics in Houston. The sisters’ quest for gold is made even more incredible, considering their family has been homeless for nearly a year, living in a shelter.
With heartbreaking words, Tai Sheppard, 11, describes what her home is like.
"It's horrible. It's infested. It's unsanitary. When we moved in there were roaches everywhere you looked," she said.
But this family survives by staying close, at all times.
Brooke shows their sleeping arrangement, two twin beds pushed together.
“This our bed. It’s two beds combined. When we first came, our mom didn’t like the other room, it was dirty.”
The second room of their apartment holds a lone dresser, crowded with trophies. Medals hang from every available door knob. And the family is no stranger to tragedy, losing their 17-year-old brother to a street shooting three years ago.
Then mom Tania Handy couldn’t keep up with the rent payments despite holding a full time job.
She is hopeful a better paying job will let them again live on their own.
Handy shares her plan for that day: “I just want it to be when I’m ready, we’re just gone.”
Much of the credit for the girls ability to run for a better future goes to Jean Bell, an Administrative Law Judge, and the founder of the Jeuness Track Club.
Her mission is to keep kids academically and athletically poised for college scholarships.
Now as the sisters train for events in long and short runs, hurdles and high jump, they all have high hopes for academic scholarships to propel them to even greater heights.
The girls will take off with their coach for the Junior Olympics in Houston; it’s their first ever plane trip.
Tonia will have to watch the girls via live stream, as she needs to keep working at home.
And she knows all of their hard work will have rich rewards.
"They're about to tear that up," says Handy. "I'm telling you, when these girls hit the big stage, they show off. They do not back down.”