She stood alongside some 3,800 athletes in front of 70,000 excited spectators who cheered and applauded during the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in Princeton, N.J., held June 14-21.
Susan Turner, who has Down syndrome , is 43 now. She has been involved in Special Olympics for more than 30 years, winning medals in track and field, equestrian, bowling and bocce in local and state competition.
But every four years Special Olympics conducts a national summer games in the United States that includes athletes from all 52 U.S. programs. The 2014 Special Olympics USA Games hosted some of the best athletes with intellectual disabilities Turner had ever seen. The question was, could she do it again? Could she still win? Her favorite sport is bowling. Turner did not disappoint.
Representing Tennessee, the spirited student of Friday Night Lights in Cleveland competed against 400 other bowlers and won the team gold medal and two silver medals, just missing her all-time high of 239 points, with a singles bowling high of 178 and a team bowling score of 184. She shocked everyone by bowling four strikes in a row. Each time before she bowls, Turner is said to recite the Special Olympics oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
When asked what does it take to be a champion, Turner said, “I practice a lot, especially on Thursdays. I’m also a league bowler on Saturday mornings at 9:30. Instead of being negative I think of something positive — always be positive. I also remind myself to focus.”
Turner, who was impressed with the size of her three weighty medals, described the Special Olympics USA Games as “life changing and exciting,” adding, “I’m riding horses now. On every Tuesday I’ll be riding horses at Tri-State (Exhibition Center) for the Special Olympics on Sept. 13. I’ll be horseback riding on the next state Special Olympics.”
Bryan and Betsy Gentry, who founded Friday Night Lights, a recreational activity for adults with disabilities, said they could not be more proud of Turner, who participated in this year’s Special Olympics USA Games. During her free time she and the other athletes were treated to a boat tour on the Hudson River, seeing the Statue of Liberty and meeting several interesting people at the Special Olympics.
“Susan is an exceptional young lady excelling in several areas of her life,” Betsy said. “Not only was she representing Tennessee, she was also representing her special friends’ bowling group from Chattanooga — coached by her mother, Judy Turner.”
According to the Gentrys, Susan, who is from Ooltewah, is a very well-rounded individual with a variety of interests that makes her an enjoyable person to spend time with.
“She has read every Harry Potter novel and on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays you will find her working at the Bi-Lo at Ocoee Crossing as a bagger, a job in which she excels,” Betsy said. “Many customers come only to her lane just to spend time with her. She is also a tremendous North Carolina Tar Heels fan, as her mother graduated from there.”
Bryan and Betsy, who are also huge Tar Heel fans, surprised Susan in April with a trip to the University of North Carolina where she met Roy Williams, the head basketball coach; Larry Fedora, head football coach; Mike Fox, head baseball coach and several players from all three teams.
“One of her highlights of her trip was sitting in the dugout with the Tar Heel baseball team to watch fireworks after the game,” Betsy said. She also attended the Blue/White spring football game and two baseball games.”
With all of her athletic achievements this year as well as sightseeing and traveling to meet people she has long admired in North Carolina, Turner called 2014, “The greatest year of my life. My dreams came true! It’s been a very special year.”
Turner’s love for sports make her an ideal athlete for the Special Olympics USA Games — also called “the Games of Welcome and Acceptance,” qualities Turner also excels in. In fact, her card ministry, which covers holidays, greetings and sympathy messages, is still thriving after more than 20 years. She has been called an amazing card writer and designer with a heart of gold. Turner also enjoys doing needlepoint.
Because she is able to celebrate the transformative power associated with Special Olympics, engage in community service and interact with interesting people in a variety of settings, Susan Turner is living a rich and rewarding life with hobbies and special interests to make her life fulfilling. She has also become an inspiration in bringing a change in understanding and acceptance of persons with intellectual disabilities in communities throughout the United States.