Barbara Turnbull was tough.

The Toronto Star reporter was left paralyzed after she was shot during a convenience store robbery at 18. Turnbull learned to type using a stick held in her mouth — a skill she put to good use, becoming a “highly respected journalist who loved her job,” says Toronto Star colleague Nancy White.

Turnbull died in May from pneumonia, and her friends have organized an award to honour her resilience and determination. The $1,000 Barbara Turnbull Award is to be given each year to a deserving Ryerson FCAD student with a disability — a “boost in Barb’s name,” said White.

First-year sport media student Matthew Vocino, 18, is the first-ever recipient. A Pickering native, Vocino lives with congenital muscular dystrophy.

The “die-hard sports fan — hockey, baseball, football, you name it” — said he has followed Turnbull’s advocacy work. While the money is appreciated, the award represents something more. “It means a lot just to represent her and hopefully continue her legacy,” he said.

First-year student Matthew Vocino is the first recipient of the award. (Charlotte Arnold/Ryersonian Staff)

First-year student Matthew Vocino is the first recipient of the award. (Charlotte Arnold/Ryersonian Staff)

Vocino said he’s been active in charity work, raising $50,000 for Muscular Dystrophy Canada, and serving as a spokesperson for Make-A-Wish Canada.

“It’s empowering,” he said of his work increasing the visibility of those with accessibility challenges. “It’s funny, you see people still that are uncomfortable around a wheelchair and it’s like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” he said with a laugh.

It’s not hard to be a good ally, he said. “Really as long as you’re open-minded to helping people if they ask, and just communicate with them to make sure what you’re doing is OK,” Vocino said.

At school, Vocino takes a lighter course load he’ll make up for with summer courses. He requires a “little bit more preparatory work” before class, and uses a personal assistant and voice recorder to take notes.

He said Ryerson is “actually the most accessible school” he’s attended, crediting the “bang bars” that open doors for making it easier to get around campus. But the true test, he said, will be winter.

“Being in a wheelchair, you have to kind of experience all the seasons to get a feel of what works and what doesn’t work.”

Vocino said he would “most definitely” pursue a position at the newspaper Turnbull worked at for so many years. Wherever he is hired, he’s certain of one thing: “If I can get to work in an industry that lets me cover sports, which is my biggest passion … I’ll have no problem getting up and going to work every day.”

Donations for the Barbara Turnbull Award can be made here.

This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Nov. 18, 2015.

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