Peggy Turner, CTRS | Focusing on Inclusivity in Sports

Peggy Turner, CTRSPeggy Turner believes in the power of sports to boost self-confidence and to build community, and in exercise to improve physical and mental health, particularly in people with disabilities.

Over the past year, her work in the field of adapted sports—which strives to provide and support programs designed to enable people with disabilities to participate fully in accessible recreation, fitness and wellness activities—has earned national recognition.

Turner, who is the athletics community liaison and adapted sports coordinator at TIRR Memorial Hermann, doesn’t see the accolades as highlighting her specifically, but rather as an affirmation of the powerful tool that sports can be in the rehabilitative process.

“When done right, sports can really be an important resource for people with disabilities,” she says. “When you’re living with a disability or chronic condition, being part of a team can be an invaluable source of support and, of course, physical activity can boost strength, balance, energy and so much more. We have seen so many patients at TIRR Memorial Hermann ‘graduate’ into adapted sports programs that really set them up for the rest of their lives.”

About Adapted Sports

Turner has spent her entire career (over 40 years) focusing on inclusivity in sports. As a child in a small Kentucky town, she was an avid sports fan who wanted nothing more than to play on the field.

Unfortunately, those were the days before Title IX, the legislation passed in 1972 that prohibits gender-based discrimination in any school or any other educational program that receives funding from the federal government, including athletics.

“The changes I’ve seen over the course of my lifetime, like Title IX and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), have only strengthened my belief that sports can be a tool for social change and help people improve their lives,” Turner says. “My life’s work has been devoted to using sports for education and rehabilitation.”

To that point, the goals of the TIRR Memorial Hermann Adapted Sports and Recreation program include using sports to:

  1. Reduce patients’ risk for readmission to a medical facility due to lack of accessible physical activity; and,
  2. “Bridge the gap,” as Turner puts it, and reduce the time it takes for a patient to be discharged from a rehabilitation facility like TIRR Memorial Hermann and reenter community physical activity.

The program does this by organizing accessible sports, recreation, fitness and wellness initiatives for people with disabilities and by partnering with similar programs within the community, both locally and nationally.

It also works to partner, collaborate and or foster relationships with service providers, individuals, organizations and other accessible adapted sports, recreation and fitness programs in the region to ensure people with disabilities have opportunities to be fully included in community sports recreation and wellness activities.

“What we do is a continuation of the rehabilitative process, because we work in tandem with rehabilitation services,” Turner explains. “But really our goal is to help people become active and engaged and prevent them from needing outpatient rehabilitation services in the future. Essentially, we’re saying, ‘Hey, if you want to drive again, or go back to work or gain independence, come out and try sports and get stronger.”

She adds, “For most patients, once they are out of the hospital or outpatient care and into an accessible sports and recreation program, where they can meet with people who have gone through what they’ve gone through and work together through some of the same challenges, they’re hooked.”

Top Teams

Hotwheels teams at the Final Four courtTIRR Memorial Hermann Adapted Sports and Recreation offers children, adolescents and adults with physical disabilities an outlet to continue playing sports both competitively and recreationally. Programs include wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, handcycling, wheelchair softball, wheelchair racing, seated throw/field events, powerlifting, fitness programs, tennis and more.

The programs are fun—and organized with an emphasis on strength and rehabilitation—but competitive as well, according to Turner.

As an example, the TIRR Memorial Hermann Junior Hotwheels Wheelchair Basketball team has grown from just five players (when it was founded in 1997) to more than 75 today. The team accepts school-aged players with physical disabilities who are interested in wheelchair basketball, and it has a notable track record of on-court success, with three national championships. In addition, several Hotwheels alumni have received full athletic scholarships to universities that have intercollegiate wheelchair basketball programs.

Other initiatives include TIRR Memorial Hermann Texans Wheelchair Rugby, and the TIRR Memorial Hermann Strength Unlimited® program, which offers sport-specific personal training at multiple locations throughout the Houston area, including a Parkinson’s exercise group.

TIRR Memorial Hermann also sponsors two wheelchair rugby teams that compete in the United States Wheelchair Rugby Association programs. The wheelchair rugby season runs October through April, and the low-point wheelchair rugby season goes from May through September. Both teams are for adults with physical disabilities age 18 years and older. To be eligible to play wheelchair rugby, participants must have a disability that affects all four limbs. Most players have spinal cord injuries with full or partial paralysis of the legs and partial paralysis of the arms. Players are assigned a sport classification based on their level of disability; teams must field players with a mix of classification values, allowing players with different functional abilities to compete together.

TIRR Memorial Hermann also sponsors (in collaboration with the City of Pasadena, Texas Parks and Recreation Department) an adult wheelchair softball team that competes in the National Wheelchair Softball Association league. The wheelchair softball season runs from April through August, culminating with a national tournament. The team is for adults with physical disabilities age 18 years and older.

Turner helps coach both the wheelchair basketball and softball and manages the wheelchair rugby teams, and athletes can participate in the TIRR Memorial Hermann‒based programs whether they have been patients of the health system or not.

Indeed, the health system’s work in adapted sports extends beyond the teams it sponsors by seeking to connect interested patients with community-based programs. TIRR Memorial Hermann has a long-standing partnership with the Harris County Houston Sports Authority (HCHSA), which manages professional sports events and facilities in the Houston region and supports community-based programs as well. Each September, TIRR Memorial Hermann and the HCHSA host Adapted Sports Day, a free event designed to raise awareness of athletic programs for people with physical disabilities.

Through this and other partnerships, Turner and her colleagues can connect TIRR Memorial Hermann patients with programs in sports and physical activity in the community.

“Recently, we had a patient who wanted to try water skiing, and I was able to connect them with a program,” Turner recalls. In addition to TIRR Memorial Hermann’s partnership arrangements, she leverages connections made through her 35 years of working with municipal governments as well as U.S. Olympic and Paralympic sports programs in the region and around the world prior to joining the health system.

Turner began her career in 1982 as the manager of sports and recreation for people with disabilities in Pasadena, Texas. During her time there, which lasted more than 20 years, the city had the only adapted sports program in the Houston area.

After Pasadena, she worked as the division manager for adapted sports, recreation and wellness for the city of Houston for four years—while consulting with TIRR Memorial Hermann—before joining the Birmingham, Ala.-based Lakeshore Foundation as the director of its site for recreation, athletics, injured military and U.S. Olympic/Paralympic training. She returned to Houston in 2017 to join the full-time staff at TIRR Memorial Hermann, which under her leadership operates the region’s only adapted sports program in a rehabilitation setting.

Over her time in the adapted sports arena, Turner has seen many patients enthusiastically embrace these programs as part of their post-treatment life; however, others are resistant and need the encouragement of their health care teams, as well as family and caregivers, to “get out of the house and get moving,” Turner explains.

“Prior to the ADA, few of these programs existed around the country,” she recalls. “Now, as things have evolved in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion, disability awareness and social media campaigns have helped elevate people with disabilities and forced communities to realize they have a responsibility to make services, including sports and recreation, available and accessible. As a result, there are more options for people with disabilities to use sports and physical activity to improve their lives and get reengaged with their communities.”

Awards and Honors

The recipients of the 2023 Legends and Legacy Community Award are Lucy Bremond; Charlotte Kelly Bryant; Jessica Castillo-Hulsey; Bernard Freeman, also known as Bun B; and Peggy Turner.Because of these efforts, last spring Turner was one of five Houston recipients of the 2023 Legends and Legacy Community Award, presented on the court during the NCAA Final Four men’s basketball championships, held at Houston’s NRG Stadium.

Through the Legends and Legacy Community Award, the NCAA recognizes individuals who have made a positive change in the community through sports.

More importantly, Turner recalled, a few days before the game, athletes from the Hotwheels basketball teams held a scrimmage on the court at the stadium—a first for the program.

In addition, Turner was honored in October during Toyota’s Everyday Heroes program, which recognizes women who have made a difference for women and girls in their local communities through sports. She and the other recipient of the award, which was established by espnW magazine and Toyota in 2013, were honored at the espnW Women + Sports Summit, in Ojai Valley, Calif., and Turner received a $15,000 grant to fund her work.

“Awards like this aren’t about me,” Turner says. “As much as I’m honored by the recognition, truly all I think about is, ‘How can I use this to help further the mission and elevate people with disabilities?’ I see this as an opportunity to create visibility for the players—and visibility is vital to athletes with disabilities.”

Turner’s work has heightened that visibility, not just in Houston, but nationally and globally as well. In recent years, she has traveled to Nepal to bring equipment and to train coaches in adapted sports. This year, she and TIRR Memorial Hermann for the first time served as hosts for the week of orientation of the Global Sports Mentorship Program, a leadership development program that focuses on empowering international delegates to serve their local communities by increasing access to and opportunities for participation in sports.

“Peggy is so passionate about what she does, and she believes so strongly in the values at the heart of TIRR Memorial Hermann’s adapted sports program—we’re thrilled that she has been recognized for her work,” says Rhonda Abbott, PT, FACHE, the senior vice president and CEO at TIRR Memorial Hermann and system executive for rehabilitation services within the Memorial Hermann Health System. “These awards are a testament to the important work that she does—work that changes the lives of people with disabilities. Through her work, people come together through sport and accomplish things they never thought possible.”

Still, while the honors are welcome, and appreciated, they aren’t what drives Turner.

“I’ve been working in adapted sports for my entire career, and I love what I do,” she explains. “Sports has been my platform of choice because I love sports and I believe they can change lives. In our work, if we can help transition one patient out of the hospital or an outpatient rehabilitation program and into the community, where they can be physically active and find meaning and joy in life again while meeting and getting support from other people, then I believe we’ve truly been an important part of their overall care.”

Winter 2024 Edition
US News and World Report Best Hospitals Badge
Nationally Ranked Rehabilitation

For the 34th consecutive year, TIRR Memorial Hermann is recognized as the best rehabilitation hospital in Texas and No. 4 in the nation according to U.S. News and World Report's "Best Rehabilitation Hospitals" in America.

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