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NYU Alum Isabelle Turner: Running to Make a Difference

Recent NYU graduate and student-athlete Isabelle Turner has turned her attention to marathon running, specifically to help raise money for Shoe4Africa, an organization focusing on health, education, and empowerment in Africa.

“I love to find ways to give back to people less fortunate. I am very fortunate to be where I am and have what I have,” Turner explained. “Nine of 10 children diagnosed with cancer in East Africa are dying, but the patients lack the medical resources to survive. Shoe4Africa is trying to change the world with its work there.”

One of the main ways she and her father Mike were going to contribute was by raising funds to compete in the 50th anniversary of the New York City Marathon on November 1. “We had already started raising money and were looking forward to running for Shoe4Africa, but everything was put on hold with everything going on,” she noted. The event was canceled on June 24 due to the coronavirus pandemic. “We would love to stick with it for the 2021 marathon.”

Isabelle Turner running with her father Mike

The fundraising from the event was scheduled to go toward building the first sub-Saharan African children’s cancer hospital. The organization has already built the Shoe4Africa Hospital, which serves as the main public pediatric hospital.

Choosing NYU

Turner played club soccer for Team Boca Soccer Club in Boca Raton, Florida, where she was coached by Florida Atlantic University head coach Patrick Baker. A nationally renowned coach, Baker has taken women’s soccer programs in NCAA Division I, II, and III to national tournaments. “He has great connections all over the country, including UAA schools,” Turner commented. “I was originally thinking of attending a big Division I school, but my dad talked me out of it. He wanted me to go somewhere where I could balance athletics and academics.”

She reached out to several highly-academic institutions and eventually narrowed her selection down to three UAA schools, including Emory University and Washington University. “I loved all three of the campuses and the coaches. It came down to New York City and how many opportunities it presented me,” she explained. “I was drawn in by the diverse group of people there. It is one of the best cities in the world. It’s important to take a step back and really appreciate where you are. There is just something different about New York City.”

One of the advantages Turner appreciated about being a fall sport student-athlete was the ability to move in to her dorm weeks before the rest of the students. “We had a chance to create friend groups and bond with our team. It made us feel like we already had a purpose on campus. You start with that and then start making connections with those you have classes with,” she recalled. “(Head coach) Michele (Canning) and senior Cassie Steinberg helped me a lot and made me feel so at home. NYU turned out to be the only school I applied to. Everyone I knew was shocked because I was that person who was at the beach every single day. I knew I could study environmental studies to stay connected to nature at NYU. Going there was the best decision I have ever made.”

Opportunities at NYU

One of her favorite experiences was studying in Florence, Italy for a semester. “NYU and the coaches highly encourage students to study abroad at some point,” Turner explained. “I stayed in an apartment where I could look out at the Duomo (Florence’s cathedral that dates back to the 13th century and whose famous dome was added in the 15th century). I woke up at 7 a.m. every day to take full advantage of being in Florence.”

Turner spent a semester abroad in Florence, Italy

She was able to take in a match between hometown Fiorentina and Serie A’s most dominant team, Juventus, and thanks to her father’s connection to former Manchester United goalie Gary Bailey, also attended a match at Old Trafford in Manchester, England between the home squad and Liverpool. “Manchester United won 2-1 (on March 10, 2018) and (Marcus) Rashford scored both Man U goals,” she remembered. “The atmosphere in the stadium was incredible after watching it on tv so many times. It was one of the best days of my life.”

Turner took advantage of an opportunity to participate in an internship with the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer during after her junior year. “I worked as a field marketing intern, working game days and outdoor events,” Turner described. “The thing I am most proud of is that I put together a marketing campaign to reach out more to the Latinx community. Marketing data had shown that in spite of a large Latinx population where the team plays in Harrison, New Jersey, the team was not drawing as many of those fans as they wanted to. I compiled all the data into a PowerPoint presentation and offered different ideas of how to bring more Latinx fans in. They approved one of my plans, but unfortunately it couldn’t be implemented due to the pandemic.”

Turner interned with the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer

Although she was not training for any marathons while at NYU, she did enjoy running. “Ever since middle school, I loved running in holiday 5K’s. I ran the Thanksgiving and Christmas races every year, and even a St. Patrick’s Day race before college,” she remarked. “It was so fun to see the excitement and energy of the runners. My dad played a lot of soccer, but tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) twice and so he started taking running seriously.” Mike began running Ragnar Races, which are long-distance running relays. A regular team consists of 12 runners covering 200 miles with each runner completing three legs of the race with each leg ranging between three and 14 miles. “I would love to do one of those with him,” she added. “He is in much better shape than I am!”

Education Beyond the Classroom

With the diversity that attracted her to New York City and NYU, Turner expanded her horizons in multiple ways. “Growing up in Fort Lauderdale, I was shown one crowd. I went to a very white private school,” she expressed. “I was always aware of activism, but I was never involved in marches or protests until I got to New York and was exposed to different types of activism.”

She went to her first Pride parade when one of her friends, who identified as LGBTQ, invited her, while they were both in New York for the summer. “She asked me if I wanted to go and I said, ‘Hell yah. Let’s go!’ By supporting my friends and being there for them, I also grew as a person and was exposed to so many ideas,” she recounted. “I was really trying to educate myself and I found others like my teammate Tori Bianco, who educated me as well. I started going to protests and rallies, including one at Stonewall (site of the Stonewall Rebellion, where LGBTQ people rebelled against a police raid in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, located in Greenwich Village). To hear these speakers share their experiences, how it was before, and how it should be in the future, was awesome. There was so much love for everyone.”

Turner finished her NYU career with 19 goals and six assists

Turner has continued her support of progressive causes by protesting for racial justice in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in spite of finding resistance in her hometown. “I stand in solidarity with my five best friends there, who are all black. It is hard when they see their friends supporting the president and arguing against the things we are posting on social media,” she lamented. “People we went to high school with don’t understand that we aren’t saying their lives don’t matter, but that we are fighting for equality and human rights for everyone. Some people’s lives are not being protected and valued, nor are they getting justice.”

Sometimes the disagreements hit closer to home. “I have had arguments with relatives and I am being very active about that,” she communicated. “This movement has taught me to have these difficult conversations. Friends and relatives are not going to turn on CNN. They are more likely to listen to the views of someone they know and care about. I am standing by my beliefs about these injustices and I will always stand up for a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her body. I want to educate people about women’s health benefits to birth control the same way others have educated me about racial justice.”

Looking Ahead

Turner hopes to turn her passion for soccer into a career. She interviewed with a Major League Soccer team after graduation, but like many organizations, they stopped hiring when the pandemic hit. In the meantime, she will begin working as a studio manager for Orange Theory in New York in mid-August.

“I would love to help MLS grow a fan base similar to those in Europe. Soccer is on the rise in the U.S. and I have a lot of faith in soccer here,” she stated. “Academy teams are getting a lot better and U.S. youth teams are getting stronger. There is such a community of people who come together when there is a team near you. My father and his friends got season tickets for Inter Miami and were so excited about the season before things shut down.”

She has wanted to work for MLS as long as she can remember, but recently another idea entered her mind. “I keep having these thoughts and even an actual dream that maybe I should attend grad school in Europe. There is a FIFA master’s program (the FIFA Master in Management, Law, and Humanities of Sport organized by the International Centre for Sport Studies) where you live in three different countries (England, Italy, and Switzerland),” explained Turner, who noted the irony of that idea. “When we went to online courses in March, I couldn’t wait to graduate and decided I was never going back to school. Somehow that changed in the last two weeks.”

Wherever Turner lands next, whether in the MLS or furthering her education in Europe, she knows she will continue to stand alongside others to make the world a better place for all.

Created By
Timothy Farrell
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Photos courtesy of Isabelle Turner