And he’s off: Turner races to Seattle for Special Olympics

Chris Aiken, Pioneer Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Jon Turner races Elle Terland toward the finish line in a practice sprint on Tuesday afternoon. Terland and Turner run sprints on Tuesdays and Thursdays to prepare Turner for his appearance in the Special Olympic USA Games in Seattle (CHRIS AIKEN / Big Timber Pioneer).

Jon Turner loves to run. 

Indeed, you can use his facial expressions to clock him while he races fellow runner Elle Terland in a series of practices sprints. As Jon reaches the finish line, a smile spreads across his face. Stop the timer. 

“Was that a good run?” He asks as his mother, Julia, who waits next to the finish line with timer in hand. 

“Very good,” she says, logging the time in a file on her cell phone. 

“I feel good,” Jon adds. 

“I’m glad one of us does,” says Terland, the state-medalist runner. 

At the end of 200-meter  dash, both of them are breathing heavily. Terland is apparently only half-joking. 

The Games

Jon was one of 12 Montana athletes chosen for the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle, WA on July 1-6. Athletes will compete in four sports: bocce, bowling, powerlifting and track. The event, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics movement, will be aired on national television (ESPN). On Sunday, Jon will join more than 4,000 athletes from across the country in the opening parade at University of Washington.  

The Pioneer last caught up with Jon in May 2016. That year Jon collected three medals at the state Special Olympic Games in Missoula — a feat that he repeated in the 2017 games, where he took gold in the 800, the mile and the javelin toss. 

Still, even gold medal athletes are not guaranteed a spot in the national games. The names of state medalists are dropped in a hat and drawn in a lottery. Jon was fast in last year’s games, but he was also lucky. His name was drawn. 

Last fall, Jon was informed he had been chosen to run sprints in the USA games. Although he is used to running long distance, Jon said he was unperturbed. He just wants to run fast — “like zoom-fast,” he says. 


As temperatures warmed this spring, Jon’s training regiment intensified. He ran two nights a week after his day shift at Cole Drug. His trainer, Kerri Baird, led him through warm-up exercises at the Sweet Grass County High School track, while Julia worked the clock. By June, Jon had seen significant improvement, slashing 20 seconds from his 400 meter time. 

“He’s as ready as he’s going to be,” Julia says. “When you’re a distance runner it’s hard to become a sprinter, but he’s going to do his best.” 

While practicing it helps to have a little competition, and who better than a fellow state-medalist to set a blistering pace? With the help of Terland and Casey Gunlikson, Jon has shaved even more time off his sprints. 

“I really like running with them,” Jon says of his companions. He especially likes running with Terland, who offers a fairly even match on the track. 


On Friday, Jon will meet his Montana teammates in Great Falls, where sponsors will treat them to a send-off dinner at University of Providence. From there they will fly to Seattle for the opening day festival.  Trailing behind him by car will be his fanbase — mother, twin brother Ben, father Rich, and grandmother, Dolores. 

Diagnosed with autism at age six, Jon’s mind operates differently than most. He isn’t nervous about committing a false start or tripping on national television. Instead, he wonders what the starting gun will sound like. And he is a little spooked by airport security. Above all, he is giddy about the people he will meet — from the flight attendant to the TV camera men and the athletes themselves. 

“I think it’s awesome,” Julia said of the experience, “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal. We’re very proud of him.”