Josh Turek, pictured at the Paralympic Games London 2012, is hoping to win back-to-back gold at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru.
Somehow, at age 40, Josh Turek finds himself packing for Lima, Peru, to play at his third Parapan American Games this week as a member of the U.S. men’s national wheelchair basketball team.
The three-time Paralympian just can’t seem to quit his sport.
“My original intention was to win a Paralympic gold medal,” Turek said. “After we won the gold medal in Rio, my intention was to retire from the national team. But I continued to play really well, and it was a shock to me. I honestly thought with age that I would see a dramatic decline in my play after Rio. But arguably two of my best statistical seasons were the two seasons directly after.”
Turek never officially left the sport after the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 — he kept himself in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency testing pool — and played the last few seasons with Club Bidaideak Bilbao BSR in Spain, where he was the top scorer and had the top free-throw percentage every season.
The sharp-shooting 3.5-point player, a native of Council Bluffs, Iowa, has been attached to the sport since a very young age and remains Southwest Minnesota State University’s most prolific scorer in history.
“It’s like a family practice,” Turek said of the sport. "It’s in the blood. I play professional wheelchair basketball. My sister (Elisha) played professional women’s basketball. My brother (John) had an 11-year career in Europe as a professional men’s basketball player. It’s the only thing I know. Since college, in my adult life it’s the only thing I’ve done.”
Turek has been part of a national team core that has been together since the Paralympic Games in 2004 and also includes Matt Scott and Mike Paye. Together, they won the Paralympic gold medal in 2016 and a bronze medal in 2012. But Turek was unable to make the last world championships in 2018 after sustaining a shoulder injury, which he said also factored into his decision to come back this year after having to watch the U.S. settle for a silver medal there.
“My teammates were constantly in my ear saying, ‘You should come back. It’s not quite the same without you.’ The team missed me, and I missed the team,” Turek said. “We were the champions and clearly the best team in Rio, and now we’ve lost. I want to be a part of getting that title back.”
A top-three finish in Lima will guarantee the U.S. a spot at next year’s Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Team USA is atop the all-time Paralympic medal table with 12 gold medals, but the triumph in Rio was the first one since 1988. Turek has helped the U.S. win gold at the last two Parapans and with its added depth this time around, Team USA will be the heavy favorites to win again later this month. Four years ago, the U.S. men’s wheelchair basketball team claimed gold at the Parapans in Toronto with a 62-39 throttling of Canada in the final, with Turek scoring 12 points in the game.
The ultimate goal for Turek — and the biggest reason he came back — is to wind up on top of the podium in Tokyo next year.
“I think that first time you win Paralympic gold is always going to be the most meaningful, but I think doing it again is going to be even more of a challenge,” Turek said. “Four years can be a lifetime in sports, and I think to repeat as a team is a more difficult challenge.”
Turek has committed all of his energy and hours of the day to the national team but does guarantee that he will retire after 2020. It’s his last go-around on the court — for real this time — and he’s even exploring his post-retirement options already.
“All my energy in every sense is going toward Tokyo 2020 to try to win the gold, however the one thing that I am doing is that I’m aware that Tokyo is the end of the road for me for basketball,” Turek said. “I hope there’s going to be a very long and successful life post-basketball. One of the things that interests me and think I could possibly do well and have a talent in is politics. I want to improve my city and state and help people.”
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.orgon behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.