Write: Melih Uslu, Ali Halit Diker Photos: Ahmet Bilal Arslan
An athlete, an artist, and an executive—here are three interesting portraits about those who went after their passion and achieved success in defiance of all barriers, presented for the occasion of Disabled Persons Week on May 10–16.
RECORD HUNTER: THE RUNNING MAN
Kemal Özdemir stood out for his skill in running when he was at primary school in Zonguldak. At age nine, he lost his left arm due to an accident. Although arms are a very important element of balance in the sport of running, he didn’t give up his passion—and when he was admitted to the Academy of Sports at Marmara University, he learned the scientific aspect of the sport too. Known as the “Running Man,” the athlete is also Turkey’s first PE teacher with a physical disability. Serving successfully in posts including head coach at the Naval Military Academy and the Academy of Sports at Istanbul University, Özdemir continues on his path as coach for the National Team and as an athlete. Winning sixth place at the World Championships in the Netherlands in 2006 and first place in the five-thousand-meter category at a 2007 event in the Czech Republic, Özdemir also has the distinction of being the only Turkish athlete who competed in the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games. The athlete says his goal is to once again run at an Olympic event this year in London: “If I run, it will be a world record, because for the first time ever a disabled athlete will run a marathon at age fifty-two and go down in history.” The Running Mad successfully completed the Lycian Way Ultra Marathon (LYUM), in which he ran on behalf of Turkish nature conservation foundation TEMA in order to support tree-planting efforts. On July 7–15, 2012, he will be participating in Runfire Cappadocia—the first “desert marathon” being held in Turkey.
A PAINTER WHO SEES THROUGH HIS MIND’S EYE
Eşref Armağan’s skill has been recognized as unique by the world public. While most of us can hardly imagine how we would live our lives without seeing, Armağan recreates the world he lives in on a canvas. Blind at birth, Armağan only learned from his father that he couldn’t see when he noticed that nobody paid as much attention to his or her surroundings as he did. He notes that he never had the intention of becoming a painter and acquiring worldwide renown, saying that he only started to draw in order to get to know the world in which he lives. What makes Armağan unique in the world is the discovery via tests conducted a few years ago at Harvard University in the US that the areas that “lit up” in his brain when he touched objects corresponded to areas in the brains of people who could see. In addition, Eşref Armağan’s talents have drawn attention, not only from the world of science, but also from that of advertising—we watched Armağan as he starred ‘n the ads of one of the world’s largest car brands for a while. He was also covered in the documentary “Real Superhumans,” a special feature by an international documentary channel. With his talent, Eşref Armağan continues both surprising people and making us question the things we think we know about sight.
FROM ZERO TO ONE HUNDRED IN SIX SECONDS
Ali Duran Karakaya, Vice President of the Turkish Sports Federation for the Physically Disabled, summarizes the development of sports for the physically disabled in Turkey with the words in this heading. Forced to adapt to life in a wheelchair after an accident at age fourteen, Karakaya is a former wheelchair basketball player—this is where the “six seconds” comes from. Ali Duran Karakaya explains the period when he started living with a wheelchair as follows: “I had never known anybody who was disabled in my environment until then. I felt like this happened to me alone and get sad. I later realized that there are many people who are like me or who have been disabled from birth, and that they must socialize and brought back into society.” Karakaya, who emphasizes that sports is a field that “recognizes no barriers” for physically disabled individuals, started his efforts concerning sports for the physically disabled in 1995. Today, he can speak of a federation that is active in sixteen branches of sport, the European Youth Wheelchair Basketball Championship held in 2008, the 2009 European Adults’ Wheelchair Basketball Championship (which was named best sports event for the physically disabled in the past decade), and the World Wheelchair Basketball Championship that will be held in Adana in 2013.