When Nicole Turner woke up this morning, she wondered whether she had only dreamt of winning a silver medal in the Paralympics.
But when she checked her bedside locker, the medal was there to reassure her that what happened 24 hours earlier in the Tokyo Aquatic Centre was for real.
Still, there was a surreal experience about finally securing a Paralympic medal.
“It was crazy. From the minute I finished the race, I was with media for about 20 minutes before I even got back to my coaches. Thankfully, they let me get some food. It was weird because for the first few hours everybody was coming up congratulating me.
“Then it all suddenly died, that was the moment it hit me. It hasn’t hit that I won a medal, but it hit me that I had done it and I put the medal into a drawer in the bedside locker. And even when I woke up this morning, I was like, ‘was I in a crazy dream or did that just really happen?’
Nicole revealed she felt tempted to hug Britain’s Ellie Robinson during the latter’s emotional live interview with Channel 4, in which she revealed the pain she endured in the last year just to fulfil her wish to compete in Tokyo.
Robinson, diagnosed in 2012 with Perthes’ disease, which affects her hip joint, won a gold medal in Rio in 2016 in the S6 butterfly in which 14-year-old Nicole was fifth. Ellie finished fifth in yesterday’s race.
“It was hard for me. Ellie was being interviewed beside me and she broke down in tears and I had to try my damned hardest not to go over and hug her.
“I know Ellie personally because we started at the same time with our first international in 2015. So we have been racing against each other since 2015: Europeans, Worlds, Paralympics and now the Paralympics again. She’s honestly one of my best friends, we get on like a house on fire.
“I know I said going into it that the aim was always to beat her. I’m glad that I beat her, but I would have liked her to get success and be happy as well. So it was quite challenging to see that. Unfortunately, she is injured and that’s sport at the end of the day, I think.”
Meanwhile, Nicole said that while she was born in Portlaoise hospital and lives on the border between Laois and Offaly, technically, she is an Offaly woman as her postal address is in the Faithful County.
“I’ve always said I’m a Laois woman, simply because Laois is the bigger county and some would say it’s a better county for the football and hurling. But I live right on the border. If I say I’m not an Offaly woman, everyone in Offaly will be killing me.”
The 19-year old reveals her mother, a qualified nurse, committed to driving her to training every day once she opted to pursue her interest in the sport.
“I’m definitely going to keep swimming. We have a nice little break, just to unwind and have some time with friends and family, but Paris is only three years away and I’m still only 19, so Paris is definitely on the horizon.
“Education-wise, I think I am going to do a PLC rather than go back to my Leaving Cert just because it would be less stressful, and I can work swimming around both. I mean, we have a few weeks off and then we’re straight back into training because the Worlds Championships are in Madeira next June, so it’s a very early season next year as well.”