Meet the Match
A Champion for Inclusion in Turkey
Deniz Cengiz was born and raised by her sports-minded family in Ankara, Turkey. Her father, an Olympic-level wrestler and coach for the Turkish Cyprus National Wrestling Team, and her mother, a social science teacher, were both avid supporters of athletics. Sport was a part of her family’s DNA; as a result, Deniz was exposed to a number of different sports throughout her childhood – including ice-skating, basketball, and volleyball. She loved and played them all…until she saw her first rowing event on television. Watching the Olympic rowers move in unison across the water caused her heart to skip a beat. She knew at that moment, rowing was the sport for her.
Despite the lack of teams and competition available for girls in Turkey, Deniz pursued her dreams to row. She was a natural. She quickly discovered her own physical prowess in the boat and her instinctive leadership qualities. As the selected team captain, she had to learn early how to hold people accountable while also being a respected and likeable teammate. This helped Deniz formulate her leadership style, which has proven to be quite persuasive in her current line of work.
In addition to rowing, Deniz was heavily involved in volunteer work. As a high school student, Deniz began tutoring orphans. Her passions for underserved populations eventually led to her current position with the Turkish Football Federation as a Grassroots Program Development Officer for disadvantaged youth and persons with disabilities.
“There is something inside of me. I can’t explain it. All of my life, I have wanted to volunteer to help underserved children. The idea of volunteering is not something that is done in my family or that is inherent to our culture. I never dreamed that my passion to help others could become a professional career for me. But I am so happy to be living out my dreams.”
As the Grassroots Program Development Officer, Deniz organizes soccer tournaments and leagues, which include persons who are deaf, blind, or have physical or mental disabilities as well as juvenile prisoners, orphans, and at-risk youth. In just five short years, Deniz has organized 60 soccer events in 45 Turkish provinces and on average, serves more than 60,000 people per year.
Despite Deniz’s unbelievable success, she still believes there is work to be done. “Sport gives people hope. It has amazing, life-changing power. And yes, I have reached a lot of people. But there are 8 million disabled people in Turkey. This is a huge number, so really, my work is just beginning.”Read the Blog Article