Erasmus as an National Athlete - Interview with Asya Çulhaoğlu from Turkey

Opportunities, challenges and chances

7 min read

Thank you so much for your time today. We are united as various youth associations Turkey, Lithuania, Italy, Czechia and Poland. We started working on a project under Erasmus+ program "Sport without boundries" which aim to offer an international sport mobility to disadvantaged youth who have limited access to sports.

On behalf of the EIG family, I would like to thank you for accepting to meet with us as a national athlete studying in Lithuania with Erasmus student mobility. Let's start if you are ready!

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Who is Asya Çulhaoğlu?

Asya Çulhaoğlu is a national athlete who started sports when she was 3 years old right after she was born, and has never taken a break from her sports life for 17-18 years. My whole life is based on sports and that makes me motivated every morning! My family has influence and support in this regard. If they had not sent me to sports when I was 3 years old, I wouldn't have had such a life fulfilled by sport. As I said, my whole life has been "sports", I am a person who maintains this professionally.

Super… You represent our country right now in the heptathlon discipline, what are the sports branches in this discipline?

Heptathlon is translated into Turkish as multiple branches. It is a multi-disciplinary branch. There are 7 disciplines in it. Women's work is divided into heptathlon and pentathlon. Men make decathlon and heptathlon. These are divided into open field and closed field races. In indoor courts, women compete in 5 branches, this is called pentathlon. 60 meters hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump and 800 meters. There are also 7 branches in open field competitions. While 100 meters hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200 meters are in the form, there are also long jump, javelin throw, 800 meters in 2 day competitions (these competitions last for 2 days). Points are ranked for each of these branches. Each discipline has a score. Every win we make has a score and you are ranked at the end in this way. Heptathlon consists of 7 branches, decathlon consists of 10 branches. This is called multiple branches. I have such a discipline and it really is considered the hardest discipline in athletics because it's hard!

I understand… This is a discipline that includes many sports and you represent our country. How does Turkey support a national athlete?

Well, I started athletics in high school and started entering the national team camps in about 1 and a half to 2 years. I think, one of Turkey's most important support to national athletes are the national sports camps. Because when I was studying in high school, I was going to my school and at the same time I was educated in athlete camps. These national team camps are a very comprehensive. They meet all the needs of athletes. Your sports physician, dietician, sports psychologist and also masseuses are all at your sight. You have 2 training every day. To be honest all trainers are at your service any time. The best gift that can be given to a national athlete are national team camps. There are also scholarship opportunities for national athletes. Universities support national athletes. This is how we get support. I would like to thank them here.

Very good.. You have a professional background in abroad as well. How was the process of representing our country?

We participated in European Championship in Madeira, Portugal 2 years ago as a Turkish National Team. In addition to the competiiton as a team, we were competing individually as well. The points we got individually had an effect on the team score. Multiple branches were regarded as ‘’European team championships’’. We –as Turkey- have ranked at the 5th place in this contest where 17 countries participated. It was a great success for us. We could have made it to the top 3, but there were some small problems. I hope this contest will be held again next year and we will achieve better success. I represented our country in this competition and I got a good score and ranked in ‘’heplatlon discipline’’, specifically in ‘’javelin throw and long jump’’. Of course with our team.. It was a very good and enjoyable experience for us.

I hope, I congratulate you too. So, what is your biggest motivation as a national athlete?

This will be very cliche, you may have heard it before, but when you wear the national team uniform, the moment you get on the traning track, this coat of arms that you carry on my chest are great sources of my motivation..

Spectacular. Well, you are studying in Lithuania now. I can ask, how is a training day for Asya Çulhaoğlu over there or in general? 

At the moment, my lessons are held online due to the pandemic. In a way it's an advantage for us. We do not need to get out of training and run to school anymore. We can follow trainings easily while having online lessons. We couldn't train in the first week that I arrived here because of the quarantine. We were only staying in our rooms, we couldn't get out. After this process was done, we went on double training. During the day, we do morning exercises, I attend my online classes at noon, and we do another workout in the evening. The reason is to compensate the 14 days we spent without any training in quarantine. So our schedule is so intense now. There are also many international students here. We spend a great time with them. We are fully experiencing Erasmus Exchange Program.

Well, you are a student of Ege University, Faculty of Sport Sciences. Since you are an Erasmus student right now, I am also curious about what the advantages of a national athlete getting an academic formation are.

Actually, I was already enrolled in the university when I was a national athlete. While trying to decide how to shape my future life, I thought that I am a national athlete, and why I shouldn't discover or raise other athletes like me or more talented than me. Then, I decided to learn the academic aspect of this job, that is, the theoretical education. Although I am a professional athlete who has lots of experiences in the field, I thought I need scientific / theoretical knowledge as well. That's why I decided to study coaching education at Ege University. I'm going to graduate this year. Hopefully, I will combine all of my professional life experiences in national sports with coaching education in the future and I can discover many talented young people and educate them as professional athletes.

I hope you will achieve all of your dreams. You have represented us very well nationally and internationally. Now that you mentioned it before, how has the pandemic affected you as an athlete?

Pandemic hit the most us. Pandemic affected so many sectors such as health, education, tourism. However, as you know, olympic games have never postponed until this time. Now, it is  postponed for 1 year. To 2021. We are talking about a situation which changed the olympic games dates. At the beginning of the pandemic, pitchs, xystus, tracks, swimming pools have been closed.  Athletes could not train at this time. We, athletes, were  staying at our houses just like everyone. We did some home practises. Afterwards, a circular announced  that national athletes were able to go out during curfew. Thanks to this circular, we had a permission to exercise for a determined time and in a determined places. In spite of this circular, which facilitated our lives a bit, this process was hard for us both mentally and physically.  In my view, it was a massive lost. If an athlete can’t run for 2 months, it will be considered as a massive lost. We are still struggling with this process. Pandemic isn’t over yet. We are anticipating that these days will be over soon. Tos um up, pandemic doesn’t affect us well.  

Besides pandemic, have you ever experienced a challenge as a woman athlete? 

I can go out and exercise whenever I want in Lithuania. I am putting my earphones and exercising freely in here. However, I can’t go out , also not feeling safe, and exercize whenever I want when I am in Turkey. Unfortunately we are trying to overcome this problem in Turkey. If it is a gender discrimination, then yes, we call it like this. Likewise, women athletes’ Schedule finishes earlier than men athletes schedules’. If our exercise finishes at night, we will ask men athletes for accompanying us. For example, when the training finishes at nine thirty, I feel  scared to  g oto  home alone.  For avoiding this, I am trying to finish my training early or waiting for my male friend to  join me. This is a threat for women athletes. I agree that this is a discrimination. I hope we will solve this problem soon. Violence against women has to end as soon as possible. If I am struggling with all of these, as a national athlete, majority of women are facing it. Unfortunately I faced such a discrimination which is not nice.

As a congeneric, I am proud of you. First of all, many people lost their motivation during pandemic. Despite  all of these, you are trying to adapt yourself to the new normal, went to abroad by your own and you are doing great. I am always supporting you and glad that we met. Lastly, I would like to ask that what you are planning for the future?

I am graduating from Ege University Sports Faculty this year and I am planning to attend a master program in Lithuanian Sports University, which I am studying at for Erasmus, for next –spring- term. If I get an acceptance ,which I believe that they will accept me, I will start to master program in Lithuanian Sports University. My goal is becoming a “trainer” after my educational life. I have a career plan like this. I am thrilled to maket his happen.

Very nice… I hope you will achieve what you are focusing on and make your dreams come true. You are goal oriented. We, as a country, are proud of you. In my opinion, this sports discipline, heplatlone, has to become more well-known and your success has to be more visible. You spared such a quality time for us. I want to say thank you on behalf of European Integration Group. We  are so happy that our paths have crossed. If you want to add something, please don’t hesitate tos hare with us.

I am so glad that we met. Last but not least, do sports and regard sports as a life philosophy. I believe that our country will develop in this context. This is my advice as a national athlete. Thank you so much.

Thanks a lot for sparing your precious time.

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