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Swimming and Biking and Running for Hope – One Man’s Quest to Pay it Forward

When Jon Turner dives into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico as part of an Ironman Triathlon he’ll embark on this November, it’s not unlikely that he’ll be transported back to a far more sober setting, if only for a moment.

That’s when he was brought face to face during a meeting with wife Allison’s team at Sojourners, Hope Network’s inpatient neuro-rehabilitation program – and the important people who had a hand in bringing his wife back from a nearly fatal auto accident.

“I just broke into tears,” he remembers. “I feel like I owe them the miracle of giving me my wife back. They’re my heroes.”

And in Jon’s world, heroes should be recognized and rewarded for their efforts.

That’s why he’s willing to raise funds for Sojourners in conjunction with a monumental athletic endeavor that he’ll attempt offshore of Panama City, Florida, when he subjects himself to the Ironman there, a grueling test of the human spirit that demands you consecutively swim 2.2 miles, bicycle 112 miles, then run a full-length marathon of 26.2 miles.

Jon Turner

To date, he’s already tested himself with half those distances – an accomplishment in itself – but far from the rigors of a full Ironman, a race that got its start in Hawaii and has blossomed in an international way to test an athlete’s ability to swim, bike, run and transition among the three.

What makes Jon’s quest especially significant is that he was in the same car in which his wife was injured – and suffered life-changing effects himself: a broken collarbone, shattered right elbow, fractured left ankle, concussion, and damaged cartilage and tendons.

Allison broke her left ankle, right wrist, pelvis, both orbital bones beneath the eyes and several ribs. She also sustained lung and liver damage, a fractured vertebrae in her neck, and a traumatic brain injury.

That accident, which occurred on February 21 of 2009, rendered both husband and wife into wheelchairs, and long stints of rehabilitation.

Today, though, they’re both back to working full-time, and gaining on injuries that have only made them more resolved to leave the past in the past.

Jon and Allison, both 31, live in Grandville. He teaches residential construction classes to students enrolled at the Career Line Tech Center in Holland. She is an osteopathic physician completing her residency in a family practice.

Their lives were altered on that slippery February night when returning from Allison’s parents’ home in Greenville.

They were westbound and nearing Northland Drive NE when the car Allison was driving fishtailed, spun into the opposing lane, and was struck by another vehicle.

They both lost consciousness at impact, and Jon remembers coming to and witnessing first responders tearing off the car’s roof. The auto’s engine had been catapulted off the chassis and 30 feet through the air. Through his haze, he recalls hearing the words “She’s not going to make it to the hospital.”

Jon had met the love of his life at Aquinas College, while he and Allison were both students. He’d graduated in 1998 from Holland West Ottawa High. She was a grad of Greenville High – Allison Turnbull at the time – same year. Both were involved in track, and it became their common bond. While both competed for Aquinas, he kidded her about how his workouts were tougher than hers. She gave it right back to him, twofold.

At Spectrum Health, Allison was put on a breathing machine and feeding tube. “She was way worse off than I was,” says Jon, and even now, more than two years after the accident, you can sense the gravity in his tone.

In one respect, Jon healed more quickly than his wife, and was in on the decision where to send Allison after a month-long stay at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. In a quandary over options available to treat Allison for her brain injury, he asked one of her health care professionals what he would do if it were his wife or daughter.

“He didn’t even blink,” says Jon.

“Hope Network.”

Specifically, that turned out to be Sojourners, where Allison spent three months with therapists and others.

Jon was so moved by the care his wife received there – and the very personal relationships both developed with staff – that he vowed to give back. He’d competed in road races and small triathlons before being injured, so settled on that as a way to raise money. But during his own recovery, he was warned that “You have to face the fact that you may never bike or run or swim again.”

His reaction: “Screw that.”

A year from that admonition, he told himself, “You’re going to do a half-Ironman, and then a full Ironman.”

During one of his first workouts after getting his legs back, he went to an area Y and tried for two miles on a treadmill.

“I barely made a mile,” he says.

“Everything hurt. I was out of breath.”

But the images of what Sojourners had done for Allison propelled him forward. Little by little, he gained on his workouts.

These days, it’s not unusual for him to devote 12 to 16 hours a week to training, and those sessions will increase to as much as 25 hours weekly this fall.

On Nov. 5 of this year, he’ll attempt the full triathlon in Panama City.

What casual spectators will witness is just another guy in a slick suit, stroking through the water and pedaling out to St. Andrews State Park and back, and then tramping a marathon.

What they won’t see are the half-dozen plates and 36 screws that help hold his body together.

What they may or may not see is that girl of his dreams, cheering him on, mind and body and soul.

And what they certainly won’t see is the impetus behind the act, the devoted people of Sojourners who helped deliver Allison back to her Jon.

Editor’s Note: On Nov. 5, 2011, Jon Turner completed his goal, finishing the Ironman distance in just under 14 hours.

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