Irish Paralympic swimmer Nicole Turner. Delly Carr/INPHO
Best Laid Plans

'This year, I took the year out of school to train for Tokyo... I think that will be the case again next year'

Irish Para swimmer Nicole Turner on life in lockdown, plans after deferring her Leaving Cert and fundraising for an important cause.

LIKE EVERY OTHER Paralympic and Olympic athlete across the world, Nicole Turner’s 2020 dream was dashed with the news of the Tokyo postponements.

The Irish Para swimmer had taken the year off school to train six days a week, and spent endless hours travelling between her native Laois and Dublin in a bid to book her coveted ticket. 

But the Covid-19 pandemic has called a halt to all proceedings, as the new normal of life in lockdown took over.

The 17-year-old, like everyone else across the length and breadth of the country, is hanging in there.

“I’m actually okay, I’ve not gone insane just yet,” the 2016 Paralympian laughs, in a video on the Paralympics Ireland Youtube channel.

“It’s pretty weird though because swimming… I’d be in the pool six days a week, doing two to three hours each day, and then obviously I’d have my travel so I’d be out of the house for a good six or seven hours of the day.

“But now at this moment in time, I’m in the house 24-hours-a-day.”

paralympicsire / YouTube

She’s at home in Portarlington with her mother, father and two brothers, spending a lot more time than normal together since finishing up in the pool last Tuesday.

“It’s been a long nine days,” Turner says of that absence from the water, though she’s trying to treat it as an “early summer break” as her team usually get three-and-a-half weeks off after World Championships every year.

“If we’d have thought of this in the water, we’d be like, ‘Ah, this is going to be lovely, a few weeks out of the pool!’ For the first few days, I was like, ‘This isn’t bad,’ but as it got to a week, I was like, ‘I don’t like this.’ My normal day-to-day routine is gone.

“Once a week, the team have a Zoom call — for me, I’m not in school this year anyway but all my friends are obviously out of school now, and it’s just so hard to keep that normal bedtime routine even, tuning yourself out of the world and trying to get some sleep.”

While she acknowledges that everyone is in the same boat, Turner is keeping busy and training away. She bought herself a bicycle, and she and her mother are clocking up 20km on 2km loops every day. 

“That gets me away, and it’s an extra drive,” she smiles, adding that she’s also doing sessions three-times-a-week in their converted garage gym.

The thoughts of returning to normal life are keeping her going through it all.

This year, I actually took the year out of school to train for Tokyo — and obviously Tokyo is postponed now for another year,” she notes. “For me, I just can’t wait to get back into that bit of extra routine.

“Yeah, we will be going back and the season’s finished now, there’s no competitions until after September, but I’ll just be excited to get back into that routine and get a bit of training done for my fitness. Then into September, and to competitions across the world.”

What happens with school though? Have negotiations started with her parents and the school as the Leaving Cert hangs over her?

I haven’t gotten that far into negotiating with the school! But I’m that type of person, I prioritise my sport over my education. And I obviously will be training for Tokyo. It wasn’t possible to go to school this year so I think it will be another case of not going to school next year. But I’m going to do something on the side as well as swimming. 

“This year has been a really nice year and it opened many doors for me, but being at home… I normally finish swimming at three o’clock, so I’d have so much time between nine o’clock in the morning and three. I want to find something that can fill my time a bit, but not obviously take over swimming.”

One possible option is helping out at the special school where she completed her Transition Year work experience. They’ve offered her a few hours a week, so she may take them up on that.

nicole-turner-celebrates-after-finishing-third After finishing third at the World Para Championships in London last September. Delly Carr / INPHO Delly Carr / INPHO / INPHO

For now, it’s about the next Netflix show she’ll watch — after completing Love Is Blind — or the next social media challenge she’ll complete. At the end of the Paralympics Ireland video, she gave the toilet roll challenge a go.

In doing so, she was fundraising for Dan Donoher, son of Laois greats Niall and Aisling Donoher, who needs over €2 million for a lifesaving operation.

“There’s a young boy in my town, he has been diagnosed with a rare genetic disease,” Turner explains. “The treatment to cure his disease is €2.1 million so there’s a whole lot of fundraising going on around the community.

“That toilet roll challenge turned into Do It For Dan. You do your toilet roll kicks, nominate however many people and donate whatever bit of money you can donate.”

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