Growing up, there was one thing Jack Shephard loved more than anything: sports.
Sheppard, who turns 24 later this month, played soccer, table tennis and basketball and also swam as a kid, but once he tried badminton he knew it was the sport for him.
He devoted himself entirely to badminton with the hope that one day it would become a part of the Paralympics so that he could represent his country on the sport’s greatest stage.
Now, 14 years since he first picked up a racket, Sheppard will make history when he competes in badminton at this summer’s Paralympics in Tokyo with the sport being included in the fantastic event for the first time.
Furthermore, Sheppard – who is competing in the SH6 class for athletes of short stature – is one of Britain’s best chances of winning a gold medal.
He won his first world title in 2017 and successfully defended that crown in 2019, in addition to winning singles and doubles titles at the 2018 European Championships.
He is currently the world number one, and was the BWF Male Para Badminton Player of the Year in 2018.
Although it always seemed he would be picked for the team, the 23-year-old says he was speechless when he was told he had officially booked his place on the plane to Tokyo.
“I thought it was amazing,” he said. “I’m still speechless now, to be fair.
“Words can’t describe how good it feels. I’ve been working for this for many years so to check it out and go to the Paralympics I can’t explain how good I feel.
“I’m going to the Paralympics. Amazing!”
The past 18 months have not been easy for athletes and women, and for those who compete in indoor sports, the pandemic has had an even more severe impact.
The delay in returning indoor sports facilities in the first wave of Covid-19 meant Shepherd had to spend four months away from the court, but that only made him more excited.
“When the pandemic happened we were training from home and in July we were allowed to return to our training facility following government guidelines and social distancing,” he said.
“Since then I have been training purely. Make sure everything is set up and ready to go, get out there and perform in the biggest event that can be done.”
What makes Sheppard’s journey even more impressive is that, while still a teenager, he underwent major surgery to straighten his legs.
The star, who hails from Derbyshire, fractured both of his legs in two places and spent nine months in a wheelchair recovering. His first world title came just five years later.
His potentially triumphant story in Tokyo will fuel perseverance, dedication and ultimately love for the sport he has brought so much to.