Paralympic Sport Club Spotlight: Turnstone Center for Children and Adults with Physical Disabilities

By Caryn Maconi | April 04, 2014, 1:22 p.m. (ET)
Turnstone's new construction initiative, called "Turnstone of Tomorrow," will expand the club's facilities to include a wellness center, group exercise rooms, an indoor track and four regulation wheelchair basketball courts. 

Based in Fort Wayne, Ind., Turnstone Center for Children and Adults with Physical Disabilities is one of the longest-running adaptive sport clubs in the United States.

Founded in 1943, Turnstone existed even before the first Stoke Mandeville Games, which were a precursor to the modern Paralympic Games. It began as a medical and educational rehabilitation center for children, but soon Turnstone was serving people of all ages with a variety of physical and visual disabilities.

“The program was started because a group of women in a sorority were concerned about children with physical disabilities not having the same opportunities,” said Turnstone’s Director of Adaptive Sports and Recreation, Tina Acosta. “In 1943, things were handled much differently, so these women were concerned about children’s educational opportunities. From there, they realized a lot of adults in the community were isolated because of their disabilities, so they starting providing programs for adults in their homes.”

From there, Acosta said, Turnstone experienced a “snowball effect” in which more and more needs were identified and accommodated through Turnstone’s programs – including childcare, preschool, occupational and speech therapy, and even case management through its team of social workers.

Turnstone’s sports and recreation program has been officially operating since the mid-1970s. Today, it is a thriving Paralympic Sport Club that offers coaching in wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis, power soccer, indoor rowing, sled hockey and boccia.

Since Acosta joined the Turnstone staff in 2002, she said its adaptive sport services – and in turn, its participation levels – have grown exponentially.

“When I started here, we had about 30 children in our sports and recreation program,” Acosta said. “The program has grown by leaps and bounds. In the last 12 years, we have gone from one wheelchair basketball team to four.”

Turnstone’s high school wheelchair basketball team now qualifies regularly for the national championships in Birmingham, Ala., where the top programs from across the country meet annually to compete.

And now, Turnstone is set to reach more athletes than ever with a new construction initiative that will greatly expand its facilities.

The end product, called “Turnstone of Tomorrow,” will be a 125,000 square foot wellness center and multisport complex. The fitness center will double and will include three group exercise rooms for classes such as spinning and adaptive yoga.

Additionally, a new field house is set to house a 200-meter track and four regulation wheelchair basketball courts.

“The main focus of this will be to provide more opportunities in adaptive recreation, aquatics and fitness,” Acosta said, “because we’ve seen such growth in the adaptive sport program and the health and wellness program.”

Turnstone’s expansion is timely, as Acosta said the Fort Wayne community’s interest in adaptive sports has grown since the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games were broadcast on NBC in mid-March.

“Just in the last few months with all that has been aired on TV with the Paralympics, we really feel that there has been great awareness for all of the sport clubs,” Acosta said. “It’s really timely with what we’re doing here at Turnstone. It’s more than just a place where people with disabilities go to play. It’s a place where people go who want to be Paralympians – who want to excel and who have that drive to be a Paralympic athlete. I think people are looking at that differently now.”

Acosta said the Sochi Games allowed the public to see the true athleticism of Paralympic athletes.

“To hear the comments from people who don’t live and breathe the disability world is really exciting,” Acosta said. “So many people have told us how much enjoyment they got from the sled hockey final. It’s just a great feeling to see where this is going and to be able to build on this expansion, all for the sake of adaptive sports and recreation.”

Several athletes in the Paralympic pipeline began their athletic careers through Turnstone programs, including Noah Yablong, who competed in wheelchair tennis at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. As a high schooler, Yablong went to nationals in Birmingham with Turnstone’s wheelchair basketball team. While in Birmingham, he met a wheelchair tennis player, and thus began the sport that would take him to the Games.

Turnstone’s slogan is “Creating Possibilities,” and with its upcoming expansion, that phrase holds truer than ever.

“We want people with disabilities to have the same opportunities as people without, and we know that if we weren’t here to provide that, their opportunities would be very limited,” Acosta said. “We’ve been able to provide a lot of disability awareness to the community and get the community to support us, which has provided a lot of additional opportunities for our athletes. And you know, we’re out there advocating for them because they want to be viewed as athletes.”

Turnstone has sure been around for a while, but it is about to seem brand new.