Growing up, there was one thing Jack Shephard loved more than anything: sport.
Shephard, who turns 24 later this month, played football, table tennis, basketball and also swam as a child, but as soon as he tried badminton he knew it was the sport for him.
He devoted himself to Badminton completely in the hope that one day it would become a part of the Paralympics so he could represent his country on sport’s greatest stage.
Now, 14 years since he first picked up a racket, Shephard will make history when he competes in para-badminton at this summer’s Paralympic Games in Tokyo with the sport included in the showpiece event for the first time.
What’s more, Shephard – who competes in the SH6 category for athletes with short stature – is one of Britain’s best chances of a gold medal.
He won his first world title in 2017 and successfully defended that crown in 2019, as well as claiming both the singles and doubles titles at the 2018 European Championships.
He is currently the world number one, and was BWF Male Para Badminton player of the year in 2018.
Though it always seemed likely he would be selected for the team, the 23-year-old says he was speechless when he was told he had officially booked his spot on the plane to Tokyo.
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“I thought it was amazing,” he said. “I’m still speechless now, to be fair.
“Words can’t describe how good a feeling it is. I’ve been working for this for many years so for it to pay off and be going to the Paralympics, I can’t explain how good it feels.
“I’m going to be going to the Paralympics. It’s amazing!”
The past 18 months have not been easy for sportsmen and women, and for those competing in indoor sports the pandemic has had an even more severe impact.
Delays to the return of indoor sport facilities in the first wave of Covid-19 meant Shepherd had to spend four months away from court, but that has only made him more motivated.
“When the pandemic happened we were training from home and in July time we were allowed to go back to our training facility following government guidelines and social distancing,” he said.
“Since then I’ve been pure training. Making sure everything is set and ready to go, and get out there and perform in the biggest event there is to do.”
What makes Shephard’s journey even more remarkable is that, whilst still a teenager, he underwent major surgery to straighten both legs.
The star, who hails from Derbyshire, had both legs broken in two places and spent nine months in a wheelchair recovering. His maiden world title came just five years later.
His potentially triumphant story in Tokyo will be fuelled by perseverance, dedication and ultimately love for a sport he has brought so much to.