Woman turned to sports to avoid becoming child bride

Woman turned to sports to avoid becoming child bride

Fatma Aksu-Istanbul
Woman turned to sports to avoid becoming child bride

Gülcan Palavan from the eastern province of Ardahan shares her inspiring story revealing how her struggle to escape from becoming a child bride led her to become an international athlete.

At a young age, Palavan decided to become an athlete to avoid her mother and sisters’ fate, who ended up becoming child brides in the village.

Palavan took a long and difficult path full of hurdles on the way to become a runner in her life and has bagged dozens of medals to date.

Born in 1999, Palavan won her first medal in her hometown and ranked third in the World International Mountain Running Youth Cup in 2015 in Bulgaria, winning her first medal in an international competition.

She was born in a poor family to illiterate parents in the northeastern province of Ardahan as the seventh child of the family.

Her mother and two sisters got married at the age of 13 or 14, and her parents wanted her to do the same immediately after finishing her elementary school studies.

At that time, she was helping her father, who was a shepherd, running around to take animals under control. That’s how she improved her running skills.

“One of my sisters married with a relative and the other with a neighbor. My sister loved run-ning, but my father did not let her,” Palavan recalled.

“I did not want to end up like them. I wanted both to run and work. I eventually joined the Beşiktaş Sports Club when I arrived in Istanbul. But I was let go when I had an injury.”

She later met a woman who lived abroad and financed her education expenses.

Palavan later reached out to Ardahan-born national athlete Özlem Kaya on Instagram and asked if she would be willing to be her trainer. Eventually, Kaya and her brother Taner agreed.

At that time while training, she worked in different jobs, including dishwashing in a restaurant and house cleaning.

“I was working during the day and hit the track for training in the evening. Some days, I had nothing to eat. I was so desperate, and in the end, I had to return to my village,” she said, adding that 15 days later, she took part in the selections for the Turkish national team.

But she had to drop the race. “I was not trained enough, and I did not even have the proper shoes. It was an awful day,” Palavan recalled.

In March, she contracted COVID-19.

“Now I am staying at a dorm. But I have to vacate it on June 16. I don’t know what happens then,” she said.

While seeking help, she met a person who talked her into handing over her medals to him. “He claimed that if people see those medals, they would help me. I did so. I handed over my medals to him,” she said.

“They have gone missing since March. This person says he does not have them. I will seek justice in courts,” Palavan said.

There are so many girls in my village who want to become an athlete, but their families prevent them, she added.

“I want to be a trainer to help them in the future. I do not want them to go through what I had to,” Palavan said.

Turkey, women's rights,