Patience pays off for Haven Shepherd who grabs her first gold at Santiago 2023

by Ros Dumlao

Haven Shepherd competes at the Santiago 2023. (Photo by Javier Valdes /Parapanamericanos 2023)

SANTIAGO, CHILE – Haven Shepherd (Carthage, Missouri) just missed the podium three times at the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 but on the penultimate day of swimming, she not only got on the podium—she stood at the very top.

The 20-year-old won the women’s 200-meter IM SM8 in commanding fashion, leading after her first turn and never looking back.

She not only won her first medal in Santiago, but also her first major international gold medal, having placed fifth in the event at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 and second at the 2019 Parapan Ams in Lima, Peru.

“I knew I could give it all that I had on the last day— and that’s all I had,” Shepherd said.

In the lead-up to Thursday’s race, Shepherd placed fourth in the backstroke, butterfly, and breaststroke, and seventh in the 50m freestyle. But those are what made her individual medley victory sweeter.

“Throughout the week I felt like God was telling me it’s not your time yet, it’s not your time yet,” she said. “Then in the call room everything moved slow. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears. And I thought this is oddly peaceful. It was so rewarding that I had to be patient for this moment to happen.”

On the sixth day of swimming, Team USA added six medals to bring their total to 40.

Maria Francescotti (Bluffton, South Carolina) and Tokyo 2020 Paralympian Zach Shattuck (Mount Airy, Maryland) got their first races in Santiago and successfully placed second in the women’s 100m backstroke S9 and men’s 100m breaststroke SB6, respectively.

For Francescotti, it was a successful international debut as he was joined by bronze medalist Keegan Knott (Lake Villa, Illinois).

“I’m so grateful for this experience to be here and come out of it with a best time and a medal; it doesn’t event feel real,” the 16-year-old said. “It’s my first race of the meet and I just wanted to get a feel for racing here and see what that’s like, get a best time and race against myself.”

Taylor Winnett’s (Hershey, Pennsylvania) has medaled in every race, including Thursday’s runner-up finish in the 100m freestyle S10. This time, she knew Colombia’s Maria Barrera would be the rabbit in and was pleased to have kept up with reigning Parapan American champion.

“I knew it was going to be a long shot and that first 50 meters I felt really strong,” Winnett said. “I remember seeing her on the wall and thinking I may be only a second or two off, maybe I can keep up. And then she just took off.”

Winnett has already hauled six medals – two golds – and has one more event on Friday. After doubling up on Wednesday in the butterfly and mixed medley relay, she’s been learning how to pace herself in her first major international competition.

“People who know me know I’m super extroverted, and I had a friend tell me going into Santiago, ‘You’re going to get emotionally exhausted.’ I’m definitely feeling it today,” she said.

Yaseen El-Demerdash (Overland Park, Kansas) added to his bronze medal in the 50m freestyle with silver in the men’s 100m freestyle S10. Though the 20-year-old has been in the shadows of three-time Santiago 2023 champion Brazil’s Phelipe Melo, El-Demerdash is making the most of the opportunity.

“The chances that I get to race someone that fast in most meets of the year are pretty slim,” he said. “So my goal going into this race also was using him as fuel to push me to that next level because I don’t know the next time I’ll get to race someone of that speed.”

Swimming competition concludes on Friday, Nov. 24 at 9 a.m. local time with the seventh day of preliminary heats. All sessions will be streamed live on the Pan Am sports channel. Follow U.S. Paralympics Swimming on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Team USA Medals – November 23


Haven Shepherd – women’s 200m IM SM8


Taylor Winnett – women’s 100m freestyle S10

Maria Francescotti – women’s 100m backstroke S9

Zachary Shattuck – men’s 100m breaststroke SB6

Yaseen El-Demerdash – men’s 100m freestyle S10


Keegan Knott – women’s 100m backstroke S9

Other Team USA Results:

Gabriella Farinas – 4th, women’s 10m freestyle S10

Evan Wilkerson (S12) – 4th, men’s 400m freestyle S13

Noah Busch – 4th, men’s 100m backstroke S9

Madelyn White – 4th, women’s 100m backstroke S9

Adin Williams – 5th, men’s 50m freestyle S7

Braxton Wong – 5th, men’s 100m backstroke S9

Carson Bruner – 6th, men’s 100m backstroke S9

Connor Gioffreda – 7th, men’s 100m breaststroke SB6