Nicole Turner went to Tokyo hoping to win bronze, claiming silver and now has her sights set on gold in Paris.
Turner, 19, was one of Ireland’s Paralympics success stories as she built on the experience of her debut Games in the Rio pool to make it onto the podium in the Far East in the 50m Butterfly.
She returned to an “overwhelming” homecoming in Portarlington on September 8 as she received a rapturous reception on the streets and outside her house despite the rain.
Greeting the crowds from an open-top truck, the moment that has stayed with Turner is when she met Eddie, a young boy in a wheelchair who can’t move his legs and can’t walk.
Turner recalled: “His mam brought him over to me and said ‘he just wants to see your medal’.
“He was only seven or eight and was a bit shy but as I walked away he said, ‘Mam, I want to be like Nicole now’.
“That’s another reason why I do it. Ellie Simmonds is a British swimmer and she’s a little person like me, she won a medal in Beijing and I told my parents I wanted to be like her.
“Thirteen years later I was up on a podium, so hearing that and getting people with disabilities involved in sport and telling them that there is a way for everyone to do what they want to do, that was a highlight of that day.”
Turner had to put school on hold to concentrate on her swimming, having tried to find a way to juggle both.
Having watched her having to do her homework late at night after going to school and then swimming training in the NAC in Dublin, they were fully behind the decision.
So while winning the silver medal in the S6 category is yet to fully sink in, it was a “massive relief” to Turner, who is grateful to her dad for working the hours that allowed her mam to give up her work to drive her to and from swimming on a daily basis.
“Everyone played a huge part in the medal,” she said.
Turner decided against returning to do her Leaving Cert and is instead doing a Sports Management course in the Portlaoise Institute that she enjoys and has provided a social aspect that she missed since leaving school.
It also gives her the flexibility to train – the teenager returned to the pool last week to begin preparations for the rescheduled World Championships that take place in Madeira next June.
The Worlds will then return to regular scheduling in 2023 before the Paris Paralympics the following year.
Turner won bronze in the Worlds in 2019 but the silver in Tokyo has brought another level of confidence.
“After the Worlds in 2019, other people came into the category and Tokyo was a year later (because of Covid),” she reflected.
“So I thought it would be a fight for bronze but I never thought I’d get a silver medal – so it just gives me that extra drive to train for Paris.
“I have achieved my goal but I suppose the next thing to silver is gold. So that’s the next thing.”
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