Meet the athlete: Rachel Turner gives back to community, younger brother

When she’s on the track, Chaparral High School senior Rachel Turner is no stranger to athletic successes, but there is more to the young athlete than what shows in competition.

Turner, a captain on the Chaparral cross-country and track and field teams, spends a great deal of her time not only working to better herself, but working to better the lives of those around her.

Chaparral senior Rachel Turner (Submitted Photo)

She applied for the Wendy’s High School Heisman Scholarship. Of the numerous applicants, she was named a national finalist. To get to that point, a male and female finalist is chosen from each state and of those 100 state finalist, 10 are selected as national finalists with two becoming national winners.

As a national finalist, Turner received a $1,000 scholarship. To qualify, applicants must have a 3.0 GPA and must be “proven leaders and role models within their school and community.”

On the track, Turner has found much success as she earned the role of captain as a sophomore, the youngest athlete to do so at Chaparral. She also has earned all-district, all-region and all-state honors in both sports as well as being a six-time district champion and six-time state runner-up in track.

Despite all this success, she spends significant time volunteering in various capacities such as serving a church mission to Guatemala, working with younger Girl Scouts and Best Buddies, a club at Chaparral that pairs a student with a disability with a buddy.

She is also a member of the World Country Club; Animals, People, Earth Club; the Scottsdale Bible Church; and the city of Scottsdale Youth Corp.

In working with children, Turner says she volunteers because she wants to give back to her community and church. She also says she’s been a girl scout since kindergarten and learned from the older scouts lessons such as the value of serving others.

“As I entered high school, I was empowered to give back and serve younger scouts and the community. Building relationships with the younger girls is important in influencing the next generation of girls to become empowered women,” she said.

“When I was younger, I remember my Sunday school teachers having such a significant impact on my life, and now that I am older I want to provide that for other children. By serving Children’s Ministry at my church, I am able to be a positive role model each week to children who are still learning what morals and values should shape their lives.”

Chaparral senior Rachel Turner is a captain on both the cross-country and the track and field teams. (Submitted Photo)

At home, Turner enjoys a close relationship with her brother Adam, who has Down syndrome. She said she’s helped him learn various skills as he grows but the teaching isn’t only one way. She says Adam gives her a new perspective on the world.

After each of her races, she says her brother will say “good job! You won,” regardless of where she finished, providing a lesson in positivity.

“Even with an extra chromosome on the 21st pair, Adam never fails to confront life’s challenges with a hopeful perspective,” she said. “His profound optimism despite difficult circumstances challenges me to be a more driven and positive person, counting each new opportunity in my life as a blessing.”

Rachel returns the favor to Adam — who competes in the Special Olympics and on his middle school track team — by cheering him on at each of his races.

Jason Turner, Rachel’s father, said it’s been a joy for him and Louise Turner, Rachel’s mother, to watch their daughter grow into who she is today.

“What stands out to us the most is how Rachel has such a compassionate heart and is so mindful of others needs,” he said. “She is very helpful with her younger brother Adam, who has Down syndrome, and has been so responsible starting at a young age. We are very excited to see what the future holds for Rachel.”

Doing all that Rachel does has helped her develop a new definition of success, one not based on typical definitions of the word.

“Our culture often defines success in terms of wealth, fame and beauty,” she said. “However, what I have learned from my younger brother Adam is that success can be measured by how you impact the future for others by accepting others for their differences and promoting inclusivity.”

The Independent reached out to Rachel to better understand her and what she does both on and off the track. Here is what she had to say:

When did you know running was the sport you wanted to do?

It all started in elementary school when I played recreational soccer, and one day, our coach had us run a few laps around the soccer field for conditioning. I actually really enjoyed running — a task that many athletes find tedious and dreadful. That realization combined with the inspiration from my mom, who has been a runner for as long as I can remember and has run 50 marathons, has encouraged me to pursue running as my sport.

What do you enjoy most about competing on the track and cross-country teams?

Competing on the track and cross-country teams has helped shape my perspective on my life accomplishments. You do not always need to be first to win. You can gain confidence in knowing you challenged yourself in every workout and race, enjoy the time running out on the trails or the roads.

What have you learned about leadership from being a captain at a young age?

Being a varsity team captain for the cross-country and track teams at Chaparral has taught me how to have patience and work with a wide range of different personalities. By approaching every person with an attitude of understanding, I can communicate with my fellow athletes and encourage them to be their best.

How did you react when you knew you were going to be a captain?

I was thrilled to become the youngest team captain my school’s team has ever had. I feel strongly about the importance of leadership and being able to create a community within my cross-country and track team. Cultivating a positive team atmosphere has been my biggest goal in my role as team captain; I want every person on the team to feel accepted and valued.

What is the most rewarding part of volunteering?

The most rewarding part of volunteering is seeing how I can make a difference in the lives of those younger than me. The children I work with each week are impressionable and look up to me, and I love building relationships with them and learning how I can be a friend and role model in their lives.

What lessons have you learned from your volunteer work?

I have learned that putting others before yourself is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. The small time we can sacrifice to serve others is minuscule in comparison to the time we spend on ourselves everyday. I am so blessed in my own life and am grateful to pass that blessing along by volunteering in my community.

How important are academics to you?

Academics are so important to me because I believe in the value of learning, and I am grateful that I even have access to receive a quality education. I have a desire to continue learning as much as I can while having an open mind towards the world around me. Learning is such an enriching experience whether it is inside the classroom or outside of it.

Why did you decide to apply for the Wendy’s scholar athlete scholarship?

I decided to apply for the Wendy’s scholar athlete scholarship because I felt that I fit the description of what they were looking for in their applicants. They honor those individuals who “give and lead their teammates, classmates and communities,” and I strongly believe in the value of service and leadership.

What was your reaction upon hearing what you had been awarded?

I am overwhelmed with gratitude to have been named a National Finalist for the Wendy’s High School Heisman award. One of my main values is service to others, and I am grateful that, through the Wendy’s Heisman, the importance of service can be recognized as being just as important as athletic performances.

Throughout your high school career, what has been your most rewarding experience, on or away from the track? Why?

My mission trip to Guatemala this summer has been the most rewarding experience of high school. My team and I planned and conducted a youth camp for underprivileged students in Guatemala. Interacting with Guatemalan students our own age, my team and I worked together to make the campers feel welcomed despite the cultural barrier. Serving the people of Guatemala gave us the opportunity to build relationships with people whose lives are completely different than ours. Even though the students came from different backgrounds, by the end of the weekend, cultural boundaries had been broken and 150 students were joined in unity. I am so grateful that my mission trip to Guatemala this past summer challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and impact the global community.

What are your future goals?

I continually ask myself how I can make the future brighter for others, just as people have done for my brother Adam. In the future, I hope to give back by creating a service organization that promotes inclusivity and redefines success.

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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