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  • Writer's pictureIşıl Tanyeri

The Story of a Young Para-Archer from Turkey: Yigit Caner Aydin

Updated: Aug 29, 2020

Yiğit Caner Aydin is a 27 year old para-archer from Istanbul, Turkey. We connected via social media a few months ago. I was not only intrigued by Yigit's athletic career in the para-archery sport, but was also impressed by his effective use of social media platforms to share his story which reminded me of some of the powerful Paralympian voices we hear in the States.

I reached out to Yigit not knowing when or if he would respond to me. He did with an incredibly positive tone and an open mind without questioning who I am or what my background is. For that, I am grateful to him. Stories matter. Stories can make a big impact. I felt compelled to tell Yigit’s story.

Today, I’m honored to present the inspiring story of Yigit Caner Aydin (first name pronounced Yee-eet), whose strength and optimism have influenced many other people in Turkey. It is my hope that by having his story written in English for the first time, Yigit's inspiring journey gets heard beyond the borders of Turkey and touches people from all around the world.

Having only started shooting 3 years ago, Yigit is already ranked number 3 in the world. Additionally, he’s Turkey’s first and only sports journalist in a wheelchair, defying the perceptions on disability looking in the eyes of those who watch him as he presents his weekly show with eloquence and confidence from his wheelchair.

A sophomore at the Istanbul University studying Astronomy and Space Sciences with a passion for web development, Yigit's life took a different turn on May 23rd, 2013. At age 21, while he was visiting a friend from a different school to discuss a web project, a large and heavy desk fell on Yigit, shattering his spinal cord at C6 level.

"Zimba." (Staple.) Yigit posted on his Instagram a few weeks after his injury pointing to his surgery mark on his neck.

"Zımba." (Staple.) Yigit posted on his Instagram a few weeks after his injury pointing to his surgery mark on his neck.

Yigit was immediately taken to the hospital where he spent 6 days in the emergency room and 8 months in the hospital bed. Doctors gave him only 20% chance at life, but Yigit, just like his name suggests in Turkish, showed bravery and strength through a big mental push. Below is a picture after his surgery at Medical Park hospital in Istanbul, Turkey. His one word comment on his instagram from June 2nd, 2013 reads "zımba.” in Turkish, “staple."

“During the first days of my injury in that hospital bed, I made a deal with myself. The accident couldn’t have been a coincidence in my life. It was meant to be, so I could leave a trace in this world through my story. Laying in bed one day, I asked myself: “How do you want to live the rest of your life: let other people feel sorry for you or look up to you as a source of inspiration and strength? I chose the latter and never looked back again” shared Yigit. After months of therapy, he finally got out of the hospital in a wheelchair and pushed towards a new chapter in life, not knowing what’s ahead.

One day in November 2015, on his way back from physical therapy, Yigit met a man in a wheelchair named Naci Yenier (first name is pronounced Naajee). He told Yigit about different adaptive sports he can get involved with, particularly para-archery. He invited Yigit to one of his practices. Not knowing what to expect, Yigit went to check it out. It was Naci Yenier, one of Turkey’s top para-archers who gave Yigit his first bow and arrow that day and he is the man behind Yigit’s new passion in life.

Yigit recalls his first experience in archery: “The first time I tried to hold a bow, I lost my balance and fell out of my chair. That day, as I continued to watch other Turkish para-archers in awe shooting from the distance, I decided to train harder, get stronger and become a part of the team. It was that same day that I fell out of my chair that I set myself a new dream and a goal that changed my life and got me to where I am today” Yigit said.

For the next 6 months, Yigit trained his mind and body to get stronger. He pulled tires in his chair to build his core. In 2016, Yigit started shooting his first arrows for the first time, hasn’t stopped ever since. In May 2017, he got invited to the Turkish National Camp. In September 2017, he went to his first World Championship in China where the Turkish National team won the World Champion title.

Being involved in para-archery transformed Yigit’s life. “Before my injury, I was just a spectator of sports, but now my entire life revolves around sports” shared Yigit. “This sport (para-archery) made me stronger both mentally and physically and gave me a platform to share my story, so I can inspire others to get out and be active as well” he said. Before his injury, one of Yigit’s dreams was to travel and see the world. “While I did a little bit of traveling across Europe before my injury, it was only after getting involved with the national team that I got to travel a lot more without the visa restrictions I once had. I am proud to travel to many countries representing my country now. I love traveling! One of my top places to visit is the United States. I hope one day I can travel out there and see the different parts of the country.” shared Yigit.

As an active member of the Turkish National Team, Yigit trains individually at least 5 days a week with a minimum of 5-6 hours a day. National training camps can take up to 10 days a month, sometimes more. I asked him how he manages to keep a balance with all these different responsibilities. "I actually don’t try to balance” he answered. “Even though I may be exhausted at times, I am so happy to be active and busy. In fact, I’d feel worse if I had to stay home and miss out on something” he continued.

How does para-archery work?

For my readers who are new to the para-archery sport, I wanted to give a little background to the sport Yigit competes in. Para-archery is the oldest Paralympic sport in the world and is among the most popular ones. The first archery competition for those with physical disability took place at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in 1948 for recovering veterans under the auspices of Dr. Guttmann, a leading neurologist of the time who believed in therapy through sports. Today, in the Paralympic Games, there are two major categories in para-archery: W1 and W2 or Open. *sourced from the World Achery website.

W1 Category

Athletes may have impairment in the legs and make use of a wheelchair. W1 athletes may shoot either a recurve or compound bow modified from standard rules, do not have separate competitions for the two disciplines.

Open Category

Athletes may have impairment in the legs, use a wheelchair or have a balance impairment and shoot standing or resting on a stool. Open category athletes may shoot in recurve or compound competitions, under standard rules.

Today in Turkey, Para-Archery National team is comprised of 14 athletes and 3 members of the coaching staff. The team has male and female athletes in all categories, except for the Women’s W1 division. Yigit competes in the W1 division and shoots both recurve and compound bows.

On June 3-9, 2019 the Turkish Para-Archery National Team traveled to s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands to maintain the world championship title they had won in 2017 in Bejing. Yigit had just won the European Cup 1st Tour in Italy a month ago and held high expectations from himself and his team. The Turkish National Team had another incredible competition and broke a new world record (increasing their score by 2 from the previous World Championship in Beijing; their new score is 1967). Turkish National Team claimed world champion title for a second time in a row. In individuals category, Yigit was somewhat disappointed with his performance and ranked 6th which meant that he would miss his chance to get a spot on the team traveling to the Tokyo 2020 Games. Despite his own performance, Yigit is incredibly proud of his teammates and to be part of the para-archery team representing Turkey across the world and still ranking number 3 in the world. "I will continue to put in the hard work and trainings to make sure I can represent my country in the best possible way at the highest level," shared Yigit.

Having the right equipment is key to boosting the performance of an athlete, especially elite-athletes. As a Paralympian, one of Yigit's challenges has been to not be able to use the right wheelchair. "I don't fit in it well. It doesn't have good support, which affects my shooting abilities especially at my level. I know I could shoot much better with the custom-chair that fits my body right," he shared. After the Turkish team's World Championship in Beijing, Yigit secured an equipment sponsor, Pharmaton who helped him purchase a new Quickie wheelchair. However, it's been two years since his chair order was placed and it has yet to arrive! Yigit is still training and shooting in his old chair that doesn't even fit his body. I hope that with this article, we can bring awareness to this issue and help Yigit receive his new chair ASAP and compete at the level he deserves.

Disability coverage in the Turkish media

This is a topic I am interested in exploring across all countries. How does the media play a role in shaping perceptions about one of the largest minority populations of the world? As I continue to create content around Paralympians and people with a disability, I notice more and more negative representation in the media which bothers me. I asked Yigit his opinion on this and how he feels about it both as an athlete with a disability and as a media professional. As previously mentioned, Yigit has been hosting a popular sports program called the Premier Panaroma on S Sports Channel in Turkey since January 2019. As the first and only TV show host with a disability in Turkey, Yigit is well aware of the meaning of this role and works hard to set an example for others.

“Unfortunately, we have a media that loves disability clichés. There is no such system where you can find consistent and creative content about our athletes with a disability and that is sad. We have a lot of great Paralympic athletes who are making us very proud in their respective categories and have fascinating stories to share. I am personally working very hard to change that culture as well as the mindsets in Turkey. Hopefully, there will be more people like me who want to be in the media so we can make a lasting change" shared Yigit.

Yigit has been hosting the Sports Show called Premier Panaroma on S Sports Channel since January 2019. He's the first and only journalist in a wheelchair in Turkey.

"What advice would you give to a young kid who recently got injured and feels lost and hopeless?" I asked him. "Life offers us a one-time shot at it. Whatever happens to us, we should try to live it in the best and most memorable way possible. My favorite motto in life is 'Life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it. Use all your tools and resources available to live your life to the fullest. Never stop dreaming big'" he shared.

“Life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it."

Closing Remarks:

From an aspiring web developer to becoming a World Champion in para-archery representing his country at the highest possible level, there is a lot of lessons to draw from Yigit's story. I’d like to share a few personal takeaways that struck me while I was working on this content. I am in awe of Yigit’s resiliency and optimism to push through some of the toughest times of his life after he sustained his spinal cord injury. I am amazed at the internal conversations he was able to have with himself when he got injured which kept him strong. He didn’t let his disability define him. He wanted to live his life to the fullest and to be a source of support to those who go through difficult times. "We all go through difficulties in life, this is just one of them," Yigit shared in a mind-blowing positivity. Last but not least, I noticed many similarities in the lives of American and Turkish people living with a disability: The challenges they face, the obstacles they have to get through, perceptions they want to change, and the perceptions that MUST change are ALL the same.

The question is not about WHETHER it will ever happen, but WHEN will it happen.

As we continue to highlight the stories of athletes like Yigit Caner Aydin, I believe we will slowly make the world a more empathetic and inclusive place for all people and change will ultimately come along.

Thank you for sticking around to read Yigit’s story. It‘s been an incredible honor to be able to tell the story of this young man from Turkey with so much potential. If you enjoyed this story, please consider following him on Instagram and Twitter at @yigitcaner to show your support. For inquiries, please contact me.

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