Ankara, Jun 16 (EFE).- When Tolga Dokuyucu is not training for a spot in the Paris 2024 Paralympic equestrian competitions, he sells tissues and lighters on Ankara’s metro.
Dokuyucu’s dream of competing as a racing jockey took a turn five years ago when he had a horse riding accident that cost him a broken leg, shattered ribs and a brain injury that caused complete loss of vision.
“At first I thought I would never be able to ride again,” he tells Efe. “But after three years of treatment, I went back to the racetrack.”
Today, the 35-year-old is Turkey’s only Paralympic equestrian rider, and even though his plans have changed, he has not given up on his dream.
Dokuyucu’s love for horses started as a child when, at the age of 7, he started working in stables. By 13, he was an apprentice jockey.
On New Year’s Eve in 2017, a strong gust of wind startled his horse, throwing Dokuyucu off.
That day, everything changed for Dokuyucu, apart from his love for horses and passion for riding.
“I’m like truck drivers who don’t know how to live without being behind the wheel. Once I’m in the saddle I can’t stop,” he says.
Dokuyucu is training for equestrian dressage, a highly skilled discipline in which the rider and horse perform a series of predetermined movements in an arena.
The sport requires harmony between the rider and horse, which Dokuyucu says has strengthened since losing his sight.
“It’s like whispering to the horse,” he says, adding that before his accident, he would focus on looking at the end goal, whereas now it’s all about being in sync with the horse.
“I had a bad fall in life, but I got up. My biggest ambition now is to prove that you can get up again, that a person who is blind can do anything,” he says.
Dokuyucu also works with a psychologist who supports the rehabilitation of people who have lost their sight in horse-riding accidents.
To get a spot on the Paris 2024 equestrian team, Dokuyucu has to earn points in both domestic and international competitions, which considering he is the only paralympic in his category in Turkey, is all the more challenging.
The athlete says that he does not receive enough support from the Turkish equestrian sports federation and also does not have a sponsor.
Dokuyucu receives a disability pension of just 2,500 liras ($144) a month and with a young family to support, is forced to peddle wares on Ankara’s metro.
Once his own dream is fulfilled, he hopes his son and daughter will also one day become horse riders like their father. EFE