By Tuncay Kayaoglu
Beytullah Eroglu twists his waist as he warms up for another punishing training session. The athletic, 20-year-old swimmer gently lies down on a poolside practice sheet so his coach can warm his feet.
Once this session is over, Beytullah slowly stands up and is directed to the pool. After a brief stop, he jumps into the water like a torpedo.
Because Beytullah Eroglu has no arms, it is safe to say that his training regime is vastly different to most other swimmers’.
Born in Kahramanmaras, a southeastern province of Turkey, without arms and one leg shorter than the other, Beytullah had a secluded life as a child, a world open only to close relatives.
Now the determined young man has competed at various international swimming games and won medals. The groundbreaking swimmer is eyeing his first medal at next week’s IPC Swimming World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland.
His desire goes past these games too. He wants to swim at upcoming Paralympic games.
What has motivated him? His disabilities.
“We were sad when Beytullah was born,” his father Mustafa Eroglu says, adding: “We accepted this reality as fate.” Beytullah’s three siblings have no physical disability.
Beytullah’s isolated life came to an end when he started primary school in 2001. He was reluctant at first but his father’s pleas on the importance of education won him over.
The young Beytullah flourished at school. He loved the place, his teacher and peers. He learned to write with his toe.
He also got attention from the media but it was one article in the local press which changed his life. Osman Cullu, a swimming coach, who read the story, came to the Eroglu family and asked if Beytullah would like to swim.
“I was surprised at first. How could a person without arms swim?” Beytullah says. But Cullu was ready: he prepared special equipment for Beytullah so that he could learn how to float.
Spending seven years with the bespoke rig, he eventually learned how to swim. “I watched video clips showing that disabled people could swim without any help. So I wanted to get rid of the special gear,” Beytullah says.
“Back then, I started swimming only for fun,” he tells Anadolu Agency. But then the medals came.
Now, after 14 years of swimming and winning so many competitions, competing has a different meaning for Beytullah: to represent Turkey in an international arena.
“I no longer feel that swimming is luxury for me, rather an opportunity to step up my country’s status on the international level,” Beytullah says.
He first participated in competitive swimming in 2007. After some success in Turkey, three years later he came sixth at the IPC World Championship in the Netherlands.
In 2012, he came seventh in the London Paralympics and in 2013 he narrowly missed out on a bronze medal at the World Championships in Montreal, Canada.
Now, he is a serious contender for a medal at Glasgow. “As a disabled swimmer, I want to bring a medal to Turkey,” Beytullah says.
Beytullah’s father is also hopeful: “His records show that he can easily come in third.”
Regardless of winning a medal this time, Beytullah’s swimming career will continue past Glasgow: “One of my biggest dreams is to win a medal at 2016 in Rio and at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics,” he stresses.
Although his achievements are a source of pride for himself, his family and his country, some of his biggest fans are other disabled people, some of whom have followed suit and taken up swimming.
“When I started, there were only 25 people at the country’s Paralympic games. Now there are at least 250 swimmers,” Beytullah points out. “As I was saying all the time: ‘If I can do this, everybody can’.”
There are over eight million citizens with various degrees of disability in Turkey. But some activists claim that they are largely excluded from public life because of bias, discrimination and lack of accommodation.
Beytullah complains: “There has not been enough public awareness on disabled people. People act out of prejudice.”
This prejudice has showed itself during Beytullah’s struggle to find a sponsor so that he can continue swimming. He was looking for financial support as a successful swimmer just like his able-bodied colleagues. He claimed some sponsors offered less money out of sympathy for his disability rather than his success as a swimmer. He says he was not looking sponsorship based on pity.
“I quit looking for a sponsor,” he adds.
Now, Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality has given him access to a swimming facility so that he can continue exercising. He has another sponsorship deal for educational purposes. He is hopeful though, that things have started to change for disabled people in Turkey.
Regardless of his final ranking in Glasgow next week, Beytullah has already proved himself a winner.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.