Family finds limitless possibilities at Turnstone
By Blake Sebring | News-Sentinel
As Turnstone celebrates its 75th anniversary, News-Sentinel.com examines the organization’s past, present and future while also introducing it to citizens who may not know what it stands for or tries to accomplish.
When Sarah Strack and her 13-year-old twins walked into Turnstone on Feb. 20, they moved right past the person they were supposed to be meeting and into the Plassman Athletic Center. Completed and opened in 2015, the $14 million facility includes four college-sized basketball courts, a six-lane, 230-meter track and limitless possibilities.
“Wow, this is totally awesome,” Strack said. “This is just amazing.”
Like many people in the Fort Wayne area, Strack wasn’t quite sure what Turnstone was or what it does, though she had a general idea of its 3320 N. Clinton St. location. Her children, Heather and Kyle Dillon, have lived with cerebral palsy and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder since they were diagnosed at six months old, and because of their health issues, they’ve usually been told no throughout their lives when it comes to athletics.
Turnstone is a place that always says yes first and then finds ways to make it happen.
After looking around the 75,800-square foot facility, the family walked back out to the lobby where they met Sports and Recreation Coordinator Kevin Hughes who was born 32 years ago with spina bifida Myelomeningocele and lives for the chance to introduce potential clients to possibilities. He’s tried dozens of sports just say he can say to someone, “Hey, you’ll love it!” And then he’ll demonstrate and make them feel comfortable enough to try it, too.
“There’s nothing I haven’t tried,” Hughes said. “I can’t sell something unless I know it. I can’t realistically talk to somebody straight-forward and say, `You have to try this!’ if I haven’t tried it myself.”
That’s the attitude of everyone at Turnstone which used to have “Children and Adults with Disabilities,” as part of its marketing, but now instead uses the tagline “Creating Possibilities.” The change came about in large part because Turnstone’s whole message is that having a disability isn’t a permanent obstacle to a full life, and the people who work there will help anyone prove it.
As if on cue, as Hughes was introducing himself to the family, a man with visual impairment walked into the building, tapping his white cane. He’s a member of the United States goal ball national team who was coming in to work with some wheelchair basketball players.
During a two-hour tour, Kyle and Heather were introduced to options like wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, therapeutic swimming, power soccer, track and field, goal ball and even archery. For the Dillons, it was better than Disney World. They got excited about every potential sport.
“It feels like a lot of encouragement for them to try to learn more things that they haven’t been able to do with other kids they go to school with,” Strack said. “So far it looks like they are having fun, and that’s all the matters.
“It’s more like I see them actually wanting to do something. It gives me a smile because they are learning something new that they want to do, and I don’t have to push them into it. Now, nobody can tell them no.”
Seventh graders at Woodside Middle School, they both tried out for the basketball teams but were cut so they became team managers. They still wanted to play. After walking around and seeing everything else in the building, Hughes put them in wheelchairs and took them to a basketball court where he showed them how to dribble and pick up loose ball. Then he taught them to shoot and then ran them through a few drills.
Because of the ADHD and because they are teenagers, Strack knew she had to find something to keep her children busy, and she also knew the school options weren’t possible. As she was working as a housekeeper at Lutheran Hospital one day, she asked family friend Dr. Eustace Fernandes if he had any suggestions. The Strack and Fernandes families attend St. Patrick Catholic Church of Arcola, and the Fernandes’s son Ignace, 15, uses a wheelchair because of spina bifida. He also plays basketball at Turnstone.
Dr. Fernandes said he’d have his wife Anne call.
“I think there are so many people in the community who don’t realize there are things for them here,” Anne said. “I know there are kids out there who would absolutely love to do this who don’t know about it. A lot of people don’t understand that you don’t have to use a wheelchair every day to play these sports.”
Having Ignace there to show the Dillons around helped tremendously. He was excited to see his friends so excited, and the basketball team always needs new players.
“The coolest thing today was being able to play with other kids and seeing all these other things we can do,” Heather said after they put the wheelchairs away in a storage room.
Two hours after walking in the door, the children were tired and hungry but couldn’t wait to come back. Kyle wouldn’t leave until he knew when the next basketball practice was.