Nicole Turner lit up the National Aquatic Centre in Dublin last August, claiming Ireland’s first medal of the World Para Swimming European Championships with silver in the 50m Butterfly.
Her name has become synonymous with swimming, and success – at still only 16 years old, Turner has the kind of medal collection that others might only dream of.
With the World Championships on the horizon, and qualification for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo firmly in her sights, she’s hard at work in the pool but with 2019 marking a decade since Turner experienced the moment that made her, it’s the perfect time to revisit it.
Following Nicole’s diagnosis of dwarfism in 2008, her mother Bernie was put in touch with an organisation called Little People of Ireland – and it was they who told her all about the upcoming Dwarf World Games, which were being hosted in Belfast the following year.
Having started swimming at the age of four, it was decided that Nicole should enter the competition, in order to let her meet others that were of similar size to her. As it transpired, she would get to meet one of her idols, too.
“The moment that made me was at the World Dwarf Games in Belfast,” Turner told RTÉ Sport.
“This was my first ever competition competing against people my own size- and it was there that I met my idol, who I’d looked up to for many years, Ellie Simmonds.”
Simmonds is a British Paralympian swimmer. She was only 13 years old when she made history by claiming two gold medals in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, in both the 100m and 400m freestyle swimming events.
She went on to win the 2008 BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award, and also became the youngest ever recipient of an MBE.
The effect of meeting such a star of the sport had a profound effect on a then seven-year-old Nicole Turner.
“After meeting her, I thought to myself ‘I want to be like her one day’.”
The impact of the chance meeting was swift. Turner won gold medals across all three of her swimming events at the Dwarf World Games in Belfast.
She was encouraged to swim more hours with her local swimming club, Piranhas SC in Portarlington.
When she was 12, she joined the Senior Paralympic Swimming Squad. Her major debut came at the World Paralympic Swimming Championships in Glasgow in July of 2015, where at only 13 years of age she made it into the finals of all six of her events, clocking personal bests for each.
Her breakout success carried into 2016, where at her first European Championships she won a trio of medals- silver in both the 100m Breaststroke and 200m Individual medley, and bronze in the 50m Butterfly.
Qualification for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio followed, where she reached the finals of all five of her events – missing out on a bronze medal by only half a second.
She also had the honour of being chosen as the Team Ireland flag-bearer for the closing ceremony.
The entire event was a major milestone for Turner, because thinking back on that meeting with Simmonds in Belfast in 2009, she reflects: “Seven years later, I was racing against her in the pool at the Paralympic Games in Rio.”