Three track star sisters thought they were joining "The View" on Tuesday to discuss their new documentary, "Sisters on Track," but they received an unexpected surprise that will help propel their future athletic and academic pursuits.
Sheppard sisters Tai, 16, Rainn, 15, and Brooke, 13, first caught the eyes of the public when they were competing for gold at the Junior Olympics in 2016.
That same year, Sports Illustrated Kids named the sisters SportsKids of the Year and unveiled the magazine cover to the family on "The View."
The sisters, along with their mother, Tonia Handy, shared the heartbreaking story of moving into a Brooklyn homeless shelter after falling on hard times and not being able to afford rent. The family then was surprised by seeing the never-before-seen Sports Illustrated Kids cover on a huge screen in Times Square.
After Tyler Perry heard their story, he offered to pay their rent for two years so they could move out of the shelter.
The family left the homeless shelter and lived in the bare apartment, sleeping on air mattresses. During their next appearance on "The View" in 2017, the girls and mother were surprised with an incredible apartment makeover that left them speechless. Interior designer Mike Harrison made over the entire two-bedroom apartment with $5,000 from Perry.
Netflix's "Sisters on Track" followed all three sisters' day-to-day lives as they try to pursue their dreams in 2017. The documentary, streaming now, also shows the struggles Handy goes through as a mother to make ends meet for her family and the determination of Jean Bell, the head coach of the Jeuness Track Club who also works as an administrative law judge with the New York State Department of Labor.
The Sheppard sisters, Handy and Bell joined "The View" on Tuesday to share their experiences filming the documentary and give updates on their pandemic experiences.
"This film is about girls with grit. This is women uplifting women, generation after generation, and just teaching self-empowerment," Handy said of the documentary. "It's a great piece."
Handy worked remotely as a health care administrator while the world grappled with COVID-19.
"Things are going really well at work," she said. "We're working remote, our department, and it helps out because the girls are also remote from school."
"I'm happy to say that I am now paying my own rent on my own," Handy continued. "I'm very thankful to Tyler Perry for giving me that big help, as he continues to help me today with the girls."
Tai, the oldest of the sisters, had to stop running this past year to focus on virtual learning. Now that the school year is over and New York state is opening up, she's back on the track.
"The past year was challenging," Tai said. "It was hard to do track and school at the same time."
In an effort to keep up with track throughout the pandemic, Rainn moved in with Bell so she could continue to train.
"The track team was kind of shut down. Because of that, it was hard to practice for me," she said. "Now I'm living with coach Jean. I'm able to train more constantly and efficiently."
Brooke, the youngest, has been experiencing painful growing pains that forced her to take a break from track.
"I felt growing pains in my knee. When I had physical therapy, I was told I am not allowed to run until further notice," she said, hoping that she'll be able to pick it up again in December.
Bell, who started the Jeuness Track Club in hopes of keeping young girls out of trouble and inspiring them to pursue their dreams, had to shut down the club because of the pandemic, but started it up again now that many restrictions in New York have been lifted.
"The No.1 lesson that I teach these girls and all the girls on the team is to be resilient, not give up hope and not give up your dreams and goals," she said.
Jeuness Track Club is funded through dues paid by the parents and via fundraisers, but Bell said that "when there are girls who can't buy track shoes, uniforms, sweats or can't afford to travel, I fill that gap with my little home fund that I save money to do things around my house."
She went on to say, "If I don't use my paycheck for good, then what am I here for?"
After catching up with the family and coach, "The View" couldn't let them walk away without a surprise: Brooks Running set up a $25,000 educational fund for each sister, totaling $75,000.
In addition to the girls' college fund, Brooks also donated $5,000 to the Jeuness Track Club to help cover membership fees, uniform costs and equipment needs for this year, and will outfit all girls on the team with new running gear.
"The View" co-host and moderator Whoopi Goldberg left off with inspiring words for the Sheppard sisters, mother, and coach.
"To us," she said, "you are a shining example of what we can all do, how to do it better, be a better mother, be a better parent, be a better friend, be a better coach."
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