Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw (left) in action.
Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw (left) in action.

Jamaican star shakes off tragedy for World Cup

Khadija 'Bunny' Shaw lost three of her seven brothers to gang-related gun violence and a fourth in a car accident. It's a tragedy fuelling Jamaica's breakout star at the country's maiden Women's World Cup.

Some, like four of her brothers, don't make it to adulthood.

And yet it was on the rough streets of Spanish Town, a hotbed for gang violence that spent much of last year in a state of emergency, where ­Jamaica's breakout star cut her teeth among the local boys, hoping one day something might come of her aptitude for anything involving a ball.

That Shaw, 22, has played two games on soccer's biggest stage and is preparing for a third against Australia on Wednesday morning (5am AEST) belies not only her upbringing but also the ­tragedy that accompanied it.

Shaw, the daughter of a shoemaker father and chicken farmer mother, grew up the youngest of 13 siblings in ­Jamaica's former capital on the outskirts of Kingston.

An early appetite for carrots and a formidable set of front teeth inspired the nickname Bunny from brother Kentardo, who taught his sister how to juggle and helped convince their mother soccer could be a sport for girls.

Shaw's skills soon earned her a reputation among the boys playing on the streets that also produced sprinter Yohan Blake and singer Grace Jones.

But even after being discovered by Jamaica's national federation, there was no senior women's team to aspire to, and she was soon wooed by US universities.

It was while blossoming at the University of Tennessee - 13 goals in 15 games in her first season - that Spanish Town's crime devastated her family.

Three of her seven brothers were killed by gang-related gun violence and a fourth died in a car accident. One nephew was also shot and killed and another electrocuted by an ­exposed wire in bushes near where he was playing soccer.

"My family has been through a lot," Shaw said.

"God only gives somebody as much as they can deal with."

As one death compounded the next each time she picked up the phone, Shaw considered returning home. But the forward was soon convinced quitting what she loved wouldn't make it better. Plus, soccer was a means to forgetting.

"It has shown me a lot of things,'' Shaw said. "It has shown me how to be humble, to respect others. It gives you a chance to lead; it gives you a chance just to be you.''

Last month, Shaw graduated with a communications ­degree. Two weeks ago she signed a two-year contract with French Division 1 club ­Girondins de Bordeaux.

It's recognition of a rare mix of power and creativity, a combination Jamaican coach Hue Menzies says you can't teach someone 182cm.

"She's got the technical ability to do a lot of things women her size don't do," Menzies said. "Being in the streets does that."

To say the Reggae Girlz run on the smell of an oily rag is an understatement, and had it not been for investment from Bob Marley's daughter Cedella they wouldn't exist.

"We qualified with little ­resources," Shaw said. "Coming from where the women's program was a few years ago, it's great."