FORT WAYNE – Wearing an Indiana University hat and bright red shoes, Landon Turner talked about his “winning spirit” during a visit to Jefferson Middle School on Thursday. Of course that includes the Hoosiers winning the 1981 NCAA men’s basketball championship, but for Turner, a big part of that ’81 IU team, it means more – much more.
Soon after IU won the ’81 title, Turner was involved in a car crash that left him paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair. It hasn’t, though, prevented the former Indianapolis Tech standout from living life as if it is a game; one that he intends on winning.
“There’s a winning spirit inside of me that no matter what happens to me I am still going to strive to get the best out of my abilities,” Turner told a group of 80 students in Jefferson’s cafeteria. “I just live life as a game, and I love to win at whatever it is, and I definitely want to win at life.”
Turner, 52, was at Jefferson at the urging of a college friend, Jefferson teacher Suzanne Jones.
“I guess when she saw I was coming next month to the Boys and Girls Club (April 25), she was, ‘Let me get Landon to come to the school,’ ” Turner said of Jones, who was in the car the night of the crash in 1981. “I had some free time, so I came up and talked to the students. I just want them to live a positive life and to use some of my experiences of how I overcame adversity and still continue to live a positive life and get the best out of my abilities.
“I could have been negative, but no one wants to be around a negative person. If I can help a kid or two change their life around, then I have done my job.”
Turner has been busy since his basketball playing days abruptly ended. After rehabilitation and getting his degree from IU in 1984, he first started working at IUPUI but has since made his way to motivational speaking and dabbles in broadcasting with an Internet sports show. He also does some real estate work.
“You have to fall back on education and be prepared for whatever happens in life,” Turner told the students, many of them athletes themselves.
Turner also found time to write a book about his experiences on the ’81 IU team, receive the Sagamore of the Wabash and get inducted into the IU Athletic Hall of Fame. He also played wheelchair basketball and was a coach.
Turner still finds time to watch the Hoosiers, who are enjoying a recent resurgence after deep postseason runs in the NCAA tournament the last couple of years.
“I bleed cream and crimson,” Turner said several hours before IU took on Syracuse on the Sweet 16. “As soon as I get back to Indianapolis, I am hosting a Sweet 16 jam. I am going to root them on.
“I see a little similarities (between the 1981 and 2013 IU teams), but where they fall short is once we had a team down we kept them down. We played even harder, but this team kind of lets teams come back. I hate to see that.”