Landmine survivor doesn’t let losses hold him back
Rıza Özel – ŞIRNAK
Bayram Yılmaz was only 10 when he lost his arms and an eye after stepping on a landmine planted in the southeastern border province of Şırnak’s Uludere district. But undaunted by his injuries, Yılmaz became a well-known national athlete with an array of medals he has won for Turkey.
“I was very young [at the time of the explosion], but the change in my life was huge. I cried a lot in my bed. I looked at myself in the mirror. There were two options in front of me: I was either going to spend this life being dependent on others or get up and fight. I chose to fight,” said Yılmaz.
Yılmaz is now 25 and has won many medals in international competitions, including a bronze medal in the 2016 World Para Athletics European Championships, known prior to 2018 as the IPC Athletics European Championships, in the men’s 1500-m category.
He is currently preparing for the upcoming 2019 World Para Athletics Championships which will be held in Dubai on Nov. 7-15 and the 2020 Paralympic Games that will be held in Tokyo.
“There were moments that I felt weak and cried [following the explosion] but I fought back. I wrote holding a pencil between my two arms and that is how I continued my education…I even have a driver’s license, a car, and I can use it. As long I live, I will not give up fighting,” Bayram said.
“I met with athleticism in my high school years. Despite my peers not being disabled, I use to pass them [while running] and come first. I have several medals in the 100m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m categories in Turkey. With these successes, I was summoned to the national team at the age of 18 by the Turkish Sports Federation for the Physically Disabled. This was very important for me…No words or a hundred-page-long book can describe the pride of carrying that star and crescent on me,” said Bayram, referring to the Turkish flag on his uniform.
Besides preparing for the competitions, Bayram is also training the youth in his hometown Uludere, struck by decades of fighting between the outlawed PKK and the Turkish state and where he was born and raised.
“I have so far worked with about 70 kids. I have made some of them certified athletes. I have taken 19 of them to competitions,” he said.
“After overcoming my obstacles, I wanted to set an example for other athletes and give a direction to the youth on the lands where I was born and raised. I hate terror. Uludere is a beautiful place; it makes me sad that it is associated with terror,” he said, referring to the PKK.
Bayram recalls the time of the explosion. “I was playing [on the street], and I came across a mine. I thought that it was a can with food inside. Thinking that if there is food inside, I would give some to the dogs. I tried to open it. It turned out that it wasn’t a can but a landmine. Then it exploded,” he said.
“I was told that I was picked up by soldiers. They took me to the Şırnak Military Hospital on a helicopter and then to [another southeastern province of] Diyarbakır, having undergone surgeries for hours…I was an ordinary kid playing in an area close to my village [before the surgery], and then I recovered [after the surgery],” he said.
“I then became someone with two legs and one eye missing.”