Homeless Junior Olympian joined by mother after stranger pays for ticket

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Ken Smaltz Jr read about the New York family and paid for Tonia Handys flight to Houston, where her daughter Rainn Sheppard later won a gold medal

The biggest surprise Monday for 10-year-old Rainn Sheppard, competing at the Junior Olympics in Houston, far from the New York City homeless shelter she shares with her two sisters and mother, wasnt the gold medal she won in the 3,000m race.

It was the arrival of her mother.

As Rainn was being interviewed by a local reporter Monday at the race venue, Tonia Handy, who hadnt been able to afford to make the trip herself, surprised her daughter with a giant hug.

I couldnt believe she was here, Rainn said in a phone interview. I still cant believe it.

After the Associated Press wrote Friday about the familys challenges, a New York philanthropist contacted Handy and bought her a plane ticket.

Shortly after the surprise, Rainn went on to win the gold medal in the 3,000m race for her age group. Her two sisters, 11-year-old Tai and 8-year-old Brooke, compete in their first events Tuesday.

The girls and their mother have been homeless since early last year, when they were evicted from their Brooklyn apartment for failing to pay the rent. Handy, 46, has a job answering phones at a car service, but it hasnt been enough to support the family. She has been raising her family alone for a decade. After a stint in a motel, they wound up in a Brooklyn shelter.

Rainn
Rainn Sheppard, top center, leaves the starting line with her competitors in the girls 3000m race at the 2016 AAU Junior Olympic Games at Turner Stadium in Humble, Texas, on Monday. Photograph: Jerry Baker/AP

The girls, who still have their estranged fathers last name, started competing in track in January 2015.

After reading about the family, Ken Smaltz Jr, who runs an Alzheimers foundation and owns a rare coin business, reached out to Handy and offered to pay for her flight to Houston. Smaltz said he never intended to be public about the gesture, but spoke after the AP tracked him down.

It just feels nice to help someone, he said.

That hasnt been the only offer of help. Other people who saw her story contributed at least $7,000 to a crowdfunding website that Handy had set up to raise money for the trip more than twice the original goal. Handy said she has since shut the site down and redirected donors to the website of their team, the Jeuness Track Club.

Handy said she has also received calls from people asking for her rsum with the intention of offering her a better job. The mayors office, she said, has contacted the family and asked to set up a meeting when they get back to New York. Local track teams sent gifts and cards to the girls entire team.

For Handy, who had felt like she was burdening the team because she couldnt pitch in financially, the support has been extra meaningful.

Now it feels like not only can I be on the team, but I can actually give to the team, she said.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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