Nicole Turner

October has been designated as Dwarfism Awareness Month. I used this thirty-one day period as a vehicle to express some of the challenges which I face in quotidian life. It has also been an extremely powerful platform to address questions that friends, family and followers may have – particularly through social media.

One of my personal highlights from this month was speaking about difference, disability and questioning the labels which society assigns us at the One Young World conference. With 1,300 delegates in attendance from over 194 different countries, it was the definition of an incredible experience.

With only hours until November begins and with Little People of Ireland celebrating their 17th annual convention this weekend, I wanted to celebrate the denouement of Dwarfism Awareness Month in a very particular way.

Nicole Turner is but twelve years of age and is the youngest person to be interviewed for the ‘Extraordinary Women’ series to date, but do not let that fool you. She is incredibly disciplined, articulate and passionate about swimming and very soon will be competing to represent Ireland at The Paralympic Games.

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Nicole, tell me a little bit about yourself.

My name is Nicole Turner, I’m twelve years old and I live in Co. Offaly.

I hear that you are the most famous person in Offaly, just after Brian Cowen.

I’m not sure, but I’d like to think so. (*laughs*)

Do you enjoy school, Nicole?

It’s great – I love it. I’m in sixth class in Cloneyhurke National School and there’s a total of five people in my class. There’s no bullying in my school and all of my friends are really supportive.

You mentioned that your friends are really supportive but what do you mean by that?

It’s never happened to me before but if another student, maybe someone in the younger classes, came up to me and asked me why I was small, they would be there for me and explain to them that I am just the same as every other sixth class student in the school.

Now, you and I both understand what we mean when we describe ourselves as ‘small’ but if someone was reading this who did not know neither you nor me, how would you explain it to them?

A few years ago, I heard you talking about how you explain it to the students that you teach – that we are the same as everyone else but our arms and legs are just a little bit shorter. That’s how I describe it to people now too!

I’m honoured and hopefully my class were listening just as intently as you! One of the things which I am constantly inspired by is the activities which you are involved in outside of school. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Em, I swim about six times a week:

  • On Monday evenings I swim from half five until seven o’clock.
  • On Tuesday mornings I swim from half six until eight o’clock.
  • On Wednesday mornings I swim from seven until eight o’clock.
  • On Thursday mornings I swim from half six until eight o’clock.
  • On Friday evenings I swim from seven until eight o’clock.
  • On Saturday mornings I swim from ten until 11 o’clock.

Gosh Nicole, I’m tired just thinking about it. How do you manage to wake up at half five in the morning to go swimming?

Thankfully, my Mam wakes me up every morning – I think I’d sleep it out without her. She also brings me to the pool every morning and evening and if she is busy, my granny and granddad will drive me to training. The whole family are really supportive of me!

Can you remember the first time you wanted to be a swimmer?

Well, it wasn’t my decision really. My brother Ciaran fell in a canal when he was younger and my Dad had to dive in after him. After that, my parents decided that we all needed to take swimming lessons, just in case it ever happened to one of us again. My two brothers started and when I was four I started lessons – just for fitness and safety, not for competition. A few years later, you and your family came to my house and told me about the World Dwarf Games and I took part in that. I came home with eight medals.

Eight medals? Wow most people would think is a lot but I know that eight is just the beginning for you when it comes to trophies and medals. Tell me a little bit about some of the competitions that you have entered.

I go to competitions every two or three months but they are just competitions for time as the people swimming against me are twice my size – I’ve no chance. Next year, there’s the British Open and the Scottish Four Nations which are very big tournaments and if I win a gold or silver medal at them, I’ll be competing in the Paralympics in Rio in 2016.

You say that very casually like it’s no big deal! The Paralympics – that’s incredible! How does the thoughts of representing your country on such a big stage make you feel?

I’m really excited about it and a little nervous too!

When you’re in the pool about to begin a competition but just before the whistle blows, what kind of things are running through your mind?

If it’s a distance race, I’m thinking about the length of the competition but also about the people beside me and those who are sitting watching me.

I imagine they’re more standing and shouting support rather than sitting.

Haha! Yes, especially my Mam!

We were talking earlier about you entering competitions and you have to compete against people who are of average height. Can you remember your first competition against other little people and the differences that you may have noticed?

The very first time was at the World Dwarf Games, I was only seven and I kind of thought I would just ‘get on with it’. Swimming against other people my size was great and I had a chance to win a medal but I didn’t see it as a big deal. Maybe that’s because I was only seven!

So Nicole, are you going to be Ireland’s answer to gold Paralympic medallist Ellie Simmonds?

I think so (laughs nervously). I hope so!

I’m deliberately saying ‘when’ instead of ‘if’ but what will you compete in when you are at the Paralympics in Brazil?

Either 50 metre freestyle or 100m freestyle. Freestyle is an easy stroke and I really enjoy it!

A few minutes ago we were talking about medals and trophies but if you had to guess, how many awards do you think that you have won?

I have seven trophies and nearly 200 medals. At the 2013 World Dwarf Games in Michigan, USA I came home with nineteen medals and the other medals are from galas and different competitions that I’ve entered throughout the year.

When I was a teacher, some of my students found it difficult to get their homework done in the evenings – not because I gave them a lot but they had football training or speech and drama in the evenings. Do you find it a challenge to balance schoolwork with competitions and training?

When I come home, my Mam has my dinner ready for me – she’s great! After that, I do my homework straight away and as soon as that is finished, I go to training. If my swimming is in the morning, I go to bed early the night before but then I have lots of time to finish my homework.

What is your big dream when it comes to swimming?

I want to go to Rio and come back home with a gold medal.

I have every belief in you that you will achieve that dream but when you are standing on the podium and a medal is placed over your head, how do you feel?

I feel great but it’s never me who is emotional – it’s my family! My granny is the most emotional of all!

Thank you very much to Nicole and Bernie for all of their assistance in organising this interview. If you would like to follow Nicole’s sporting journey, you can ‘like’ her fan page on Facebook here.

If you enjoyed this, there is quite a likelihood that you would find the other ‘Extraordinary Women’ interviewees interesting too. Find them here!

Written by

Sinéad Burke is an academic and a writer with an obsessive interest in fashion, education and 'Extraordinary Women'. She is an ambassador for the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the National Women's Council of Ireland.