Nicole Turner: Calculated risk pays off for Paralympian swimmer

Garryhinch athlete took time out of studies to train and won silver medal in Tokyo

Nicole Turner’s family and friends celebrate the Paralympian’s success  at home in Garryhinch, Co Offaly. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Nicole Turner’s family and friends celebrate the Paralympian’s success at home in Garryhinch, Co Offaly. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


A calculated risk has “paid off” for Paralympian Nicole Turner, who opted to put her studies on hold to train for the Tokyo games.

Nicole’s mother Bernie explained that the 19-year-old swimmer opted not to sit her Leaving Cert so she could focus on the pool, and now has her reward and a place in the history books after claiming silver in the 50m S6 butterfly event.

“It was supposed to just be a year out, but obviously Covid then kicked in,” Ms Turner told The Irish Times from the family’s home in Garryhinch near Portarlington. “Her training regime had to change again because she couldn’t swim with the clubs.

“She couldn’t fit school in because we don’t live in Dublin [where Nicole trains], we live an hour and 10 minutes away. There was only one alternative: go to school or swim.”

Ms Turner believes her daughter made the right decision. “Nicole loves to swim. I said to her, ‘You can always go get an education, you won’t be able to represent your country at that level.’

“Swimming is not a sport you can stay in for years and years, it burns you out. It’s a decision that has paid off.”

Ms Turner said she did not sleep well before watching the race, which Nicole completed in 36.30 seconds, and that there was pride, relief and tears over what her daughter achieved.

She suspected Chinese athlete Yuyan Jiang would win the race, which she did, but that the silver and bronze medals were up for grabs in a competitive field.

“After the five years of training, I just hoped that she’d come out and get a medal. I wasn’t bothered about the colour. I didn’t want her to be fourth or fifth, I just wanted her to get a medal,” she said.

“She was just in good form. You could tell by her from the last two events. She knew herself that she was doing this.”

‘Stepping stone’

Once she returns from Japan, Nicole is planning to do a Post Leaving Cert course in sports management instead of going back to school and sitting the Leaving Cert.

“This will give her a stepping stone to college,” said her mother, who hopes the success of the Irish teams at the Paralympic and Olympic Games has given the people of Ireland a lift.

Nicole and Kellie Harrington are good friends, and the Olympic boxing gold medalist was among those supporting the young swimmer from afar.

“Every time I do a bake, I make banana muffins for the swimmers,” said Ms Turner. “I always have an extra four or five in the tin, and if we go up to the institute in Dublin, Kellie would be up there, I’d always give her some.

“I said to her when she was going for her final that I’d have to make her a banana loaf if she got that gold medal.

“She’s just sent me a picture of her there crying, and she said: ‘You must be bawling at this stage because I was crying when she won that [medal]’.”

The family are planning “a big homecoming” for Nicole when she gets back to Garryhinch. Her mother said: “That will be phenomenal.”