Turner’s suc­cess based on a ded­i­ca­tion that knows no lim­its

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT - CLIONA FO­LEY

THERE is huge irony in the fact that the one sub­ject Ni­cole Turner gets to sit out in school is phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion. That’s be­cause this 16-year-old Para swim­ming star is al­ready train­ing 14 hours a week and trav­el­ling from Laois to Dublin to do it.

Ex­pect Turner, who will com­pete in six events rang­ing from sprints to 200m in­di­vid­ual med­ley, to be one of the Irish stars at the Euro­pean Para Swim­ming Cham­pi­onships in Dublin over the next week.

Two years ago she won three Euro­pean medals be­fore her 14th birth­day and then made the fi­nals in all five of her events at the Rio Par­a­lympics, com­ing fifth in the 50m but­ter­fly and swim­ming six per­sonal bests.

Ex­pect her also to break down any la­tent prej­u­dices you might har­bour about peo­ple who look dif­fer­ent from you.

Turner’s swim­ming tal­ent is show­cased in Para swim­ming’s hypochon­dropla­sia class for ath­letes of small stature.

Ask her if she ob­jects to the term ‘dwarf ’ and she just grins.

“Some peo­ple don’t like it be­cause it has an as­so­ci­a­tion with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Many dwarfs use the term ‘lit­tle per­son’. It doesn’t re­ally bother me. I’m not known as a dwarf or a lit­tle per­son, I’m known as a Par­a­lympic swim­mer,” says the Laois girl, who sat her Ju­nior Cert in June.

Up un­til last March Turner was coached and trained lo­cally in Por­tar­ling­ton’s 25m pool, ris­ing at 5.0am daily. But the need to train in a 50m pool saw her move to join the Irish squad at Ab­bot­stown, dou­bling her train­ing load and the de­mands on her life­style.

Now she trains af­ter school, from 5-7pm daily. Din­ner is eaten in the car on the way home, fol­lowed im­me­di­ately by home­work and bed.

“There are days when you don’t re­ally want to do it but then you say to your­self ‘look where you’re at, you need to do it’.”

On Satur­days she has two ses­sions. If she doesn’t stay with a team-mate in­be­tween, her par­ents Bernie and Ja­son will do the round-trip to Dublin twice that day. That’s the phe­nom­e­nal level of ded­i­ca­tion that elite swim­ming de­mands of ath­letes and their fam­i­lies.

“Some of my friends aren’t sporty and they’re like ‘how do you do it?’ and I’m like ‘if I didn’t swim I’d be so bored with my life!’ A cou­ple of months ago I got sick and couldn’t swim for 10 days. It was the worst 10 days of my life.”

Her coach, Dave Malone, was Par­a­lympic cham­pion and world-record holder at 100m back­stroke 18 years ago and is now Par­a­lympic Ire­land’s Di­rec­tor of High Per­for­mance. He has de­vel­oped a world-class Irish team, led by Par­a­lympic and three-time World bronze medal­list Ellen Keane.

As in­ter­na­tional stars in a mi­nor­ity sport the op­por­tu­nity to com­pete in front of a home crowd has spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance for them. “If peo­ple don’t come to watch us I don’t think they’ll ever re­ally un­der­stand Par­a­lympic sport,” says Keane. “This is a re­ally great op­por­tu­nity to show them it’s not just a per­son with a dis­abil­ity hav­ing a swim. It’s an elite ath­lete who just hap­pens to have a dis­abil­ity.”

Turner sin­gles out the work be­ing done by Sinéad Burke, an equal­ity ad­vo­cate for lit­tle peo­ple, whose cam­paign­ing in fash­ion alone has seen her fea­tured in

this year.

“Sinéad got the term ‘lit­tle per­son’ put into the Irish lan­guage,” Turner says ad­miring­ingly. “Ev­ery year there’s a con­ven­tion in Athlone for all the lit­tle peo­ple in Ire­land and I met her there.”

Has Turner per­son­ally en­coun­tered much prej­u­dice?

“Well there are peo­ple who don’t know you, who say ‘why is she small and she’s an adult?’ You just kind of give them a death stare and be like ‘you should know this!’ But it doesn’t re­ally bother me.

“Be­fore swim­ming I was known as ‘the small girl’ from a lit­tle town. Now I’m known as a Par­a­lympic swim­mer. My dis­abil­ity re­ally doesn’t come into it.”

Ni­cole Turner is primed to com­pete at the Euro­pean Para Swim­ming Cham­pi­onships in Dublin

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