The Saugus High School "S" can be seen on the hill in back of Coach Raquel Rocky Turner during warm-ups at practice on the Saugus High track. Dan Watson/The Signal

‘Rocky’ Turner: A life on (the) track

It was 10:30 a.m. Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24, 2016, when Racquel “Rocky” Turner and one her six children decided to take a walk around their Saugus neighborhood.

As they walked near the intersection of Copper Hill Drive and Agajanian Drive a car attempted to cross the busy boulevard. That car was broadsided by another vehicle and careened onto the sidewalk. As the car slammed into Turner it pinned her against a stone monument sign for a nearby housing tract.

Her 15-year-old son avoided the hurtling car and was uninjured. However, Turner suffered a shattered right leg, broken hip and various other injuries. Taken to Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, Turner had surgery to place a titanium rod in her leg.

Growing up SFV

Turner, the Saugus High School sprinters’ coach, was born in Los Angeles and grew up in the San Fernando Valley, splitting her time between her divorced parents in Granada Hills and North Hollywood.

A graduate of Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Turner attended Glendale Community College before transferring to California State University, Northridge ,where she studied health education and earned her bachelor’s degree.

Turner ran track all four years of high school, and two years at Glendale Community College.

She became league champion in the 400-meter sprint as a high school sophomore.

“I think that is the reason why I love the 400 meter race so much,” she said.

Moving to the SCV

Coach Raquel Rocky Turner gives instructions to Brandon Cruz, 15 during warm-ups at practice on the Saugus High track. Dan Watson/The Signal

Turner met her husband, Jeff Turner, in 1997, when she worked as a sales rep for Canon and her husband was a client.

After the couple married, they decided she would stay home to raise children.

“I had three boys in three years,” she said. The trio were added to the young son her husband had from a previous marriage.

In short order, the Turners adopted two girls.

Their children are now ages 13 ,14, 16, 18, 19 and 24.

“It was a struggle when you have five kids in elementary school,” said Turner. “It was crazy.”

The couple moved to Saugus in February 2004.

In addition to the normal daily challenges of raising six young children, the Turners discovered one of their sons suffered from a learning disability and behavioral issues.

“At the time, I thought it was ADHD,” she said. “Then we figured out he was having reactions to artificial colors, preservatives and artificial flavors in his food. We didn’t figure this out until second grade, we called it allergies.”

Turner discovered the symptoms abated when she eliminated the offending substances from the family’s diet.

“A lot changed for us for the better when we changed his diet in the second grade,” she said. “I’ve learned over the years to meal plan in advance because you can’t really stop at the store every day to buy something for dinner.”

In addition to meal planning, Turner’s recipe for family success is keeping organized.

“The more kids you have, the more organized you really have to be,” she said. “Everyone is on a schedule. Keeping that strict every day schedule is really how we survive.”

The accident

In addition to the broken bones, Turner suffered severe injuries to several ligaments in her right leg. The LCL and IT Band were severed.

“The fact the ligaments were completely severed meant I was in a knee immobilizer for two months, and it took months and months and months before I could bend my knee again,” she said.

Turner underwent three surgeries to repair the damage to her body.

She also spent 250 hours in physical therapy at Vargo Physical Therapy in Granary Square in Valencia.

“I can’t tell you how much they saved me, emotionally and physically. They taught me how to walk again,” she said.

Turner said her history as an athlete helped her recover.

“If I wasn’t a track athlete before the accident, I probably wouldn’t have gotten through this,” she said. “When people ask me how I got through it I tell them that I felt I like didn’t have a choice. What I learned from track is that you have to push through it. If you want to walk again you just have to get up and do the work.”

Turner said the Santa Clarita Valley community “is amazing.”

“If you become involved in the community, it is amazing what you get back,” she said. “The students who came by, the parents who came by, the cards I received, that kept me going

Turner, who started coaching at Saugus two years before the accident, said the track community provided a great deal of support to her family.

“They organized a food train — my husband didn’t have to cook a meal for two months,” she said.

PTSD

Turner said as a result of the accident, she also suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

“What people often don’t talk about is that I had, and still do, have PTSD from the accident,” she said.

Turner waited nearly nine months before she sought help for the condition.

“I was in a hospital bed for three months downstairs at my house. I made a choice I wasn’t going to deal with the emotional side of the accident until I could walk again. I wasn’t hiding from the PTSD,” she said.

As part of her therapy, she visited the site of her accident for 45 minutes a day for a week listening to sirens on a headset.

Coaching track

Coach Raquel Rocky Turner works with runners during warm-ups at practice on the Saugus High track. Dan Watson/The Signal

Turner started coaching track in the SCV with the Santa Clarita Storm Track Club. She volunteered with the club nine years ago as an assistant track coach.

In addition to coaching at Saugus High, Turner also serves as a coach for children in the area seeking to compete at the USATF National Junior Olympics.

Turner takes coaching seriously.

“I think coaches have the ability to either help or hurt a child. The responsibility of not only being a kind coach, but also a knowledgeable coach is important,” she said.

Turner took it upon herself to educate herself. She joined USATF and recently earned her latest certifications as a USATG Level 3 Elite Youth Coach and a USATF Level 1 Instructor.

“Track is about learning a discipline and pushing yourself farther than you think you can,” she said. “I have seen coaches all over the country and sometimes the things they tell children is painful to listen to. I decided that to help as many children as I could I needed to get to the coaches.”

Turner said the accident may have made her a better coach.

“I understand injuries better. By spending 250 hours at physical therapy and watching the people around me, I am more compassionate about people with injuries,” she said.

Mothers Fighting for Others

In 2007, Turner founded Mothers Fighting for Others as a result of her work with orphans in Kenya.

“I volunteered in Kenya and fell in love with the children we were helping. I came home from that experience and started the nonprofit,” she said. “It changed me completely, it changed me as a mother, it changed me as a woman.”

The nonprofit helped run an orphanage in Kenya and put orphan girls through high school.

“Now they’re graduating college,” Turner said.

However, the accident forced Turner to resign as executive director of the nonprofit.

“It was a disservice to the charity to try and make it work while dealing with my accident. I had to focus on my recovery,” she said.

Life Lessons

“I think the lessons sport gives to kids can be life lessons. That’s what I try to do with my athletes,” she said. “My high track coach Joe McNabb is still the track coach at Notre Dame. What I got from track was a strong work ethic, goal setting, confidence, perseverance and lifelong friendships.

Turner said she is still friends with people she competed with 30 year ago.

Her stated philosophy as a track coach is: “I want to teach my athletes the sport itself all the while loving it as much as I do. I want to teach them self-respect, respect for their fellow athletes and their future competitors. I want them to push themselves and teach them to believe in themselves and each other. I want them to know how to set realistic goals, teach them how to achieve them and have a ton of fun in the process.”

Future

Two months before the accident, Turner had made the decision that she wanted to run again competitively.

“This isn’t like I want to run around the block,” she said. “I mean competitive running. I come from a sprinting background and there isn’t much for old lady sprinters to do. I didn’t want to run a 5K, sprinters don’t do that. I made the decision to start training again and join a Master’s team. That’s why I was out walking the day of the accident. I thought, I haven’t run in a long time so I will walk before I can run.”

Turner is still looking to run again on the competitive Master’s level, but her family is her first priority.

“I still have children to raise and some things have to stay on the back burner because I will have three kids in high school next year and my main priority is being there for them in their teenage years,” she said.

Turner also enjoys her work as the Saugus High Sprint coach.

“I want to help Saugus develop great sprinters and teach them life lessons along the way,” she said. “Discipline and determination are what got me through my accident. I want them to think, ‘If Coach Turner can get through that then I can get through this.’”

After the accident Turner returned to her coaching job at Saugus, in a wheelchair.

“The kids saw me go from a wheelchair, to a walker, to crutches, to being able to walk again,” she said.

Turner would also like to coach at the college level at some point in the future.

“I just want to help,” she said, “as many young people as I can help.”

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