Nicole Turner is just getting started
"This is the biggest sporting achievement you can take part in, I don’t plan on stopping any time soon."
The first time Nicole Turner took part in the World Dwarf Games for swimming, she hadn't expected to win any medals. Instead, she won eight.
"That was when the seed was planted," she tells Her. "I haven’t stopped competing since then."
One of Ireland's youngest Paralympian squad members, the 19-year-old has gone from strength to strength in recent years picking up accolades across competitions ranging from the World Para Swimming Championships to the IPC Swimming European Open Championships to the Rio Paralympics.
This summer she's heading to Tokyo for her second Paralympic games, a feat that she has been busy preparing for, well, since the 2016 games.
“Honestly it’s such a huge source of pride for me, especially with a four year cycle turning into five years and having to wait that extra time," she says. "Now that it’s here and happening so soon, it’s amazing. It’s such a huge honour being able to represent my country."
Nicole's parents didn't find out she had a disability until she was five years old. Diagnosed with a rare form of short stature known as Hypochondroplasia, her family initially weren't aware of anyone else in the country with the condition.
It wasn't long before they came across the Little People of Ireland, a charity founded by the parents of broadcaster and disability activist, Sinéad Burke, set up to raise awareness of dwarfism and provide short people with resources and support.
"Sinéad was one of the first little people I met," says Nicole. "She told me about the World Dwarf Games and luckily, the next year it was being held in Belfast. My parents wanted to get me into anything they could so we said go on, I’ll give it a try."
And give it a try she did. Returning home to Portarlington with eight medals was just the beginning for Nicole. Since her debut, she has taken to world stage podiums across the globe, her most recent performance at the World Para Swimming European Championships 2021 bagging her an impressive four medals - two silver and two bronze.
As a pro athlete, Nicole is used to spending the majority of her time in the water. 2020, however, had a different idea.
The first Covid lockdown was the longest she had ever been out of the pool since beginning her career, but it wasn't long before she discovered that her next door neighbour had a pool that could use while she waited for leisure centres to open back up.
"He said he'd been reading articles about me not being able to access the pool and he offered his," she says. "It was funny because before he even came over me and mam were thinking ‘oh god will we ask him?’ But then he did anyway.
"I got some groundwork done and then in June I was able to go back training properly because we had a date set in place for the Paralympics, and that was a huge boost for the team. There have been times where it’s been challenging, there were some sessions that were a bit harder mentally, but I’m just glad to be back in the water.”
Nicole heads to Tokyo in a matter of weeks, and although all of her energy is focused on the upcoming games, she's already got future competitions on her mind. In fact, she's already planning for her next Paralympics in 2024.
“I do plan on going to Paris, as crazy as it sounds," she says. "People always say to me I’ve been swimming for so long, but I’m only 19. I do miss out on a few things, like going out with friends but this is the biggest sporting achievement you can take part in, I don’t plan on leaving any time soon."
And what about the younger girls like her, who are considering getting into a sport but don't know where to begin?
“You have to give it a go, don't be afraid and don’t hold back," she says. "I was very young when I got into swimming and I’ve had no regrets.
"It does get hard sometimes but if you talk to someone about how you’re feeling and you’re open about it, you will get the support you need. If you are passionate about something, you need to go for it."
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