Ogden senior Story Turner signs adaptive swim scholarship to University of Arizona
OGDEN — When the University of Arizona begins fall classes in August for the 2023-24 school year, there are expected to be five members of UA’s new adaptive swimming team enrolled at the school.
Ogden High senior Story Turner is one of them.
On Thursday, Turner signed an athletic and academic scholarship to Arizona, which has the only collegiate adaptive swimming program in the country.
“It’s hard to be 12 hours from home, but I’m really excited, there’s a lot of opportunity for me down there,” Turner said on Monday after swimming practice. “I have a friend who plays wheelchair basketball down there and through some of the adaptive communities over the years, I know people here and there who are going to the University of Arizona.”
Arizona Adaptive Athletics lists seven adaptive sports on its website, but the swim team is so new that it’s not yet one of the seven sports displayed.
UA Adaptive Athletics director Peter Hughes wrote in an email that UA has the only college “para-swim program” in the nation; the program isn’t fully funded yet, so the department is slowly recruiting swimmers.
At UA, Turner said she wants to study to be a child life specialist and work in hospitals to help kids feel better about whatever put them in the hospital in the first place.
Turner has OEIS complex, which includes spina bifida. According to the Mayo Clinic, spina bifida is a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly, and it can cause mobility and orthopedic issues.
Turner could walk when she was younger, but it was painful and difficult. For around the last 10 years, with numerous therapies along the way to try and help her walk, she’s exclusively used a wheelchair.
At swim practice, she swims in a small cut-out area of the pool adjacent to the lanes. Mainly, Turner swims freestyle and backstroke, she said.
Her parents bought her a modified van with a ramp and hand controls on the steering wheel already installed, so she can drive around on her own.
In a world that isn’t designed for wheelchairs, Turner, who described herself as a fairly independent person, is grateful she can drive herself around.
“It’s really freeing and I love that my parents helped me to get a car,” she said.
Turner is an extremely competitive person, OHS swimming coach Andrea Sweet said, so racing against everyone else and not being able to race in an adaptive division wears on her.
“I can tell you it’s really — sometimes it’s hard to lose every single race, coming in last,” Turner said. “We have a lot of amazing people cheering and I love it, and I wouldn’t be able to do it without the people cheering. But it’s hard to lose every single race when you know that, with legs, I feel like I can do well.”
This February, Utah will take a small and welcomed step toward inclusivity in swimming.
For the first time, Utah’s state championship swimming meets will have “unified” swimming heats in all four classifications, which will include adaptive and unified athletes, according to UHSAA swimming director Steve Marsing.
There will be two races: the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle, and they’ll both take place during the Saturday finals session of each classification.
Unified sports are generally geared more toward people with intellectual disabilities and adaptive sports, what Turner participates in, are more for people with physical disabilities. The UHSAA sanctions unified sports — basketball, soccer and track — but not adaptive sports.
Turner said she’s excited about the prospect of adaptive races at the swim meet and simultaneously hopes for a future in which adaptive sports are sanctioned in Utah. Both she and Marsing said the inclusion of adaptive athletes at the state swim meet was long overdue.
Along with wanting to become a child life specialist, Turner has found her voice as an advocate, spurred by the everyday challenges of being a person who uses a wheelchair in a world not designed for them.
“I’d love to go into public speaking and being an advocate. I know there’s people out there who try to make a good change for us, but I also know there’s some room to grow,” she said.
Connect with reporter Patrick Carr via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter @patrickcarr_ and Instagram @standardexaminersports.