Sisters On Track:
Anybody See the Dream?
Words by Lee Glandorf
Photography by Johnny Zhang
We believe that the work of training and racing enriches our lives. Speak to any runner and they will share with you the ways in which running has led to a fuller life, whether those riches are intangible – greater discipline, greater confidence - or tangible – friendships forged, opportunities unlocked. The power of running and its community is one of the central themes of the new Netflix documentary Sisters on Track.A New York coming of age story, it follows the Sheppard sisters Tai (12), Rainn (11) and Brooke (10) who were thrust into the spotlight when they were named Sports Illustrated Kids of the Year at a time when their family was struggling with homelessness. The film offers an intimate glimpse into the family’s journey to recover from tragedy and move away from their life in a shelter.
The Sheppard sister's running story began when Ms. Sharon, the girls' babysitter, brought them to the Colgate Women's Games. The longest-running track series in the country is held each year in their Brooklyn neighborhood. There they met Coach Jean Bell of the Jeuness Track Club and were inspired to join her team. Coach Bell's loving discipline has inspired the girls to aim for excellence in the classroom and on the track. We were fortunate enough to have the chance to meet Coach Bell and the Sheppard sisters at a screening of Sisters on Track in Beacon, New York. Writer and Black Roses NYC founder, Knox Robinson, led a Q&A after the screening, which we're sharing here.
Knox Robinson: I want to get things started by just acknowledging that we have this incredible community gathered here today, but there's more to it than just running. This is us at our best when we come together as not just a running community, but as a local community and a New York community to celebrate our own.
To kick it off, congrats on this sensational thing. How's it been to see your hard work on the big screen?
Tai: It’s kind of embarrassing. Especially to see the difference between me then and now. There's been a lot of hard work.
Knox: Yeah, it's like when parents pull out the baby pictures! Can you talk to me more about family. Track and field is a family sport. Talk to me about what family means in the film.
Rainn: Our track club is like a family. Coach Jean is the best coach ever. All our coaches support us, and we support them too. Being on the track team makes me feel so happy and comfortable.
Tai:Track is a family. A real family. We have our disagreements and come back together. We work hard together.
Knox: Family can’t kick people out. On the relay, or on your team, if something goes wrong, you figure it out. That process of working it out gets us to our best.
Coach Jean, I wanted to ask you about the legacy of Jeuness Track Clun. It's a special program, all girls and young women. It's roots go way back to the first integrated sports team in America. This was New York Pioneer Club, founded in 1937, the era of segregation. Mr. Joseph Yancy had the belief that Black and white athletes could run together. This was before Jackie Robinson. A member of NYPC founded Atoms Track Club. That was Freddie Thompson, who you ran for. Can you talk about that community and that legacy? What does it mean to you?
Coach Bell: My coach Freddie Thompson coached forever. Everything I learned, I learned from Freddie. I use that in Jeuness. That's the legacy I want to pass on. Girls who are now adults have their own clubs across the country. They do what I do. That's the legacy.
Knox: And can you talk to me about the importance of running a program that focuses on women and young girls?
Coach Bell: Our community, country and the world are waking up to the fact that women are powerful beyond measure. Girls can do anything. We teach them to embrace that power. That's our latest motto: Pink is powerful.
Knox: One question we had from the audience is, how do you balance track and school?
Tai: If we don’t do our homework before practice we can’t practice. It’s easy if you schedule your time. Don’t sleep to late!
Coach Bell: We stress responsibility. Responsibility for yourself, your work, your everything. If you don't learn it in middle school or high school, then what's going to happen at college? You won't have an adult looking out for you. If your grades are slipping, we make sure that's your focus until you can get it together.
Knox: In the film, you tell the girls to listen to their inner voice. Can you speak about that mental toughness you try to instill?
Coach Bell: I don’t know if you can tell, but the girls train really hard. Whether you're 6 or 16, you need to be committed. I tell the girls, we get out there to win. Now, you may not always win and that's ok. But you get out there on the track with the mindset to win. That's mental toughness. We take care of the physical in practice.
Check out Sisters on Track now streaming on Netflix and follow the social impact campaign #anybodyseethedream at sistersontrack.com. Through this campaign, the film aims to support the voices of women and girls, who are educated and empowered through sports and mentorship. Powered by Colgate Women’s Games, the campaign's hope is that the film will give the audience a greater understanding of the value of mentorship and coaching through sports. The film works to inspire more people to fulfill these roles in their communities, participate in clubs like Jeuness, and essentially find the role they can play in enabling a brighter future for the young people around them. You can learn more about Jeuness Track Club and support their programming, here.