A teenage girl horrifically burned twice, who was bullied at school because of her appearance and then lost her dad to cancer, has rebuilt her life by becoming a top martial-arts athlete.
Dilara Sultan Arpaci, 19, who is taking part in a world championship challenge next year and has already won top honors in other contests, is now facing her toughest fight back home. She is battling to help her mother get cancer treatment.
Arpaci is the child of a Russian mother and a Turkish father. She lives in the district of Kemer in the Turkish province of Antalya.
She had most of her body burned at the age of four when her dress caught fire after her twin brother started playing with a lighter.
At the age of six, her injuries were made even worse when boiling water was poured down the left side of her face after a pot on the stove was accidentally overturned.
By the time Arpaci was 7 years old, she had undergone 18 surgeries to deal with the worst of the burns on her face and upper body, with skin taken from her legs transplanted to some of the most badly damaged areas of the body.
Arpaci, who did not want to go out during childhood because of her burn scars, said kidswere made fun of her while she was at school, which made her a recluse.
In turn, the loneliness made her irritable and aggressive, and in an attempt to channel that emotion, her mother encouraged her to try kickboxing.
It was then she discovered her passion, winning the gold medal at 10 in her first Turkish championship, which she attended in the tenth month of her kickboxing training. She took a break from sports when she lost her father, due to cancer, in the same year.
The Turkish athlete then started again at 12. She then regained the title of ‘Kick Boxing Champion of Turkey’ in the championship she participated in the same year.
After achieving further successes in national events over the next three years, she started the sport of Muay Thai, known for its hard-hitting fights among martial artists.
That was four years ago, and she has not looked back since then.
The girl won the silver medal in the European Muay Thai Cup in 2018 and the gold medal in the same tournament in 2019, but was unable to participate in the competitions last year due to the pandemic.
While preparing for the next championship, Arpaci is also dealing with her mother, who has been diagnosed with cancer.
She has taken out a large bank loan for the costly treatment. Now, Arpaci is trying to raise $2,500 (2,100 Euros) to deal with the repayments. She just set up a Just Giving page to raise the much-needed money.
“We have never been a well-to-do family. When I was a little girl, I was making money selling corn on the streets during my father’s illness,” Arpaci said.
“While I was living through the difficult days we had as a family, I was also dealing with the bullying of people who looked at me with pity or disgust because of the burns on my body.
“My mother, who has cancer, is getting worse, and I am trying to support her during her treatment. On the other hand, I train nonstop to win the gold medal at the 2022 World Championship.”
The teen said she would like to capture the audience’s attention for her performances and to bring a moment of joy to her mother.
“My only goal is for people to talk about my success as an athlete, not the burns on my body. I also want to give my mother the moral support she needs with my achievements.”
Muay Thai — which is the national sport of Thailand — is also known as the “Art of 8 limbs” because it uses eight parts of the body for striking: two hands, two legs, two elbows, and two knees. This differs from other stand-up combat sports, such as boxing, that uses two points — fists, and karate that allows four points — fists and feet.
The 2022 Muay Thai World Championship is being organized by the International Federation of Muaythai Associations.
(Edited by Angie Ivan and Fern Siegel)
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