A new generation of canoers is making a splash in landlocked Şanlıurfa, where the Fırat (Euphrates) river is the only body of water.
Young athletes between 14 and 16 train hard at the Atatürk Dam to make a name for themselves and Turkey, in the little-known sports in a country crisscrossed with rivers and surrounded by seas.
At a facility in the southeastern province's Bozova district, some 50 athletes participate in training sessions, sponsored by the local Directorate of Youth and Sports.
The coronavirus outbreak has limited the number of athletes participating in each session, but it did little to daunt them. Each of them boasts national titles despite taking up the sport a few years ago.
Hilal Şimşek, for instance, took up the sport when she was 11. Now, at the age of 15, she has been picked for the junior national team. "I was afraid of even putting my toe into the water at first, but the trainers helped us overcome that fear. I came third in my first race in Eskişehir (in central Turkey). I won bronze again in my second race in Adana and won my fifth race, again in Adana. Then, I joined trials for the national team and was selected," she told Ihlas News Agency (IHA).
Şimşek says her and her team's success, drove more investments for facilities and encouraged more people to take up the sport. "Our numbers are growing and we want to compete in the Olympics one day," she said on the sidelines of a training session Monday.
14-year-old Emrullah Demir was introduced to the sport by his physical education teacher. "I did not know what canoe meant but I was excited when I saw it first and get used to paddling in no time," he said.
Demir recounts how his family was terrified when he decided to attend training. "We never lived by the sea and my family thought it would be dangerous. But my father supported me when he saw my enthusiasm and other family members took pride after I won titles," he said.
Demir secured the fourth spot in his first national tournament and has won two bronze medals in national junior championships.
Dilan Yılmazer, 15, switched to canoeing from volleyball. "I was playing for the school team before my physical education teacher asked me if I would want to join the training. Our instructors did a lot for us and I want to make them proud by joining the national team," she said.