To be an elite level athlete takes an incredible amount of sacrifice and dedication, no matter the sport.
Fans witness the joy in victory and pain in defeat but what they rarely see or hear about is the journey. The countless hours required to be amongst the very best in your chosen sport.
But it’s not just the athlete that makes sacrifices. Bernie Turner is the mother of 16-year old Irish Para swimmer Nicole Turner, who is competing in six events over the course of the week at the World Para-Swimming Allianz European Championships in Dublin.
“We’ve been training now for the last ten months, up and down from Laois,” begins Turner, who earlier in the day saw her daughter Nicole qualify for the final of the 200m Individual Medley, where she placed 5th.
“Nicole lives in Portarlington. She used to swim with Laois Marlins and then we moved to the National Aquatic Centre in March 2017 because Nicole’s national coach is one of the coaches in the NAC and also the facilities are fantastic up here so we travel from Portalington after school Monday to Friday. We leave school at quarter to four and get here at quarter to five.”
Despite being one of Europe’s elite Nicole is still only 16-years of age and spent the last year trying to balance tournament preparations, with studying for the Junior Cert.
Bernie Turner outlined that Nicole’s days are often so long that she doesn’t even get the time to sit down for an evening meal, oftentimes the car acts as the dinner table.
“Nicole swims, she has her dinner in the car going home, does her homework when she gets home and then it’s off to school again. On a Saturday morning we get up at 5 am, we leave at 5:40 and then we get here for 6:40. She swims does gym, we go home and then she comes back in the afternoon. She just has Sunday off.”
It’s an incredible commitment for someone so young, but it’s nothing new to Nicole. At 14 she burst onto the world stage when she claimed two silvers and a bronze at the previous European Championships in Funchal, and a trip to the Paralympics in Rio with Team Ireland soon followed.
“They’re elite level athletes,” Bernie Turner concludes.
“Nicole does 17 hours training a week on top of school, it’s a huge commitment being an athlete for your country.”
Nicole has had an excellent start to the week’s tournament reaching the final of the women’s 50m freestyle in her first event on Monday and doing the same in the 200m individual medley on Tuesday where she put in a terrific performance to finish 5th.
The 16-year-old will compete in four more races over the course of the European Championships this week.
Elsewhere on Tuesday Irish swimmers Ailbhe Kelly, Patrick Flanagan and Sean O’Riordan all made finals and despite no medals, each performed valiantly in races that none of the three considers their main event.