With her sights set on a Swedish Classic Circuit
She stood on skis for the first time in 2013 – and they were borrowed skis! Now, just last week, Solmaz Filiz Karabag completed the “Half of Vasaloppet”, probably the first Turkish woman to do so. Now she has her sights set on the Swedish Classic Circuit – a challenge of events in four endurance sports: cross country skiing, cycling, open water swimming, and cross country running.
When Solmaz Filiz Karabag arrived in Sweden and came to LiU as guest doctoral student for the first time in 2005, she had not been running since childhood, never been on a bike, and her swimming was not impressive. And skiing – well, you could forget about that.
“But it was just terrible to see the snow and regard it as a problem. I wanted to look on snow as something positive.”
So after her boyfriend and a colleague had nagged her enough, Solmaz borrowed some skis and tried it out around the golf course.
“I fell loads of times, had bruises all over. Then I bought my own skis and other equipment, and this made me think that I had to go skiing, since I had all this stuff.”
Linköping doesn’t get much snow, and opportunities for training are limited. Solmaz took trips to northern Sweden with her boyfriend a few times and took lessons from a skiing teacher.
“’Stand up straight! Be happy and proud.’ That’s what he taught me. And it actually worked.”
It worked so well that Solmaz entered the “Half of Vasaloppet”, a 45-kilometre ski race in Dalarna, this year.
“The weather forecast was for rain, and that’s what it did. I was thinking that I could give up whenever I wanted, and not finish the race. But after a few kilometres I realised that I could actually ski quite well! I can finish this! When I reached the finish line, I felt that I could set out on another race just as long. It took me six hours and twelve minutes to complete the course. I fell down a few times on the uphill stretches, and found it a bit difficult to get up them – I ended up out on the edge of the trail. But I learnt how to make sure I had space around me, and next time I’ll do things differently.”
“Vasaloppet is fun for everyone,” Solmaz continues. “Everyone is happy, and the countryside is truly beautiful. Since I’m interested in tourism and organisation, I could also gain professional experience from the event. Vasaloppet is a unique tourism arrangement: the fact that everybody gets involved is a major factor contributing to its uniqueness.”
Winter sports are not very popular in Turkey, even though there is quite a lot of snow in eastern Turkey and it can get really cold. When Solmaz was growing up, her brothers sometimes went downhill skiing, but Solmaz never went with them.
Looking through the results database for Vasaloppet, Solmaz Filiz Karabag and one other woman have stated that they come from Turkey, but the other participant has a typically Swedish name. So it’s possible that Solmaz is the first woman from Turkey to compete in Vasaloppet!
Solmaz has been back and forth between Turkey and Sweden a few times now. She was awarded a post-doc scholarship and returned to LiU in 2008. After this she returned to Turkey, but was back again in Sweden in 2011 to take up a post at Södertörn University as senior lecturer in tourism. In 2013 she came back to LiU as docent and senior lecturer in industrial organisation at the Department of Management and Engineering.
Solmaz is planning to take part in “Öppet spår”, the full length of Vasaloppet, in 2018 and then continue to complete the Swedish Classic Circuit challenge in 2019. She’s planning on improving her swimming during the summer, and has found a good swimming club in Linköping.
“When I first came to Sweden, I couldn’t even ride a bike. It’s not something you do in Turkey: it can be dangerous. But you can’t live without a bike in Sweden, where it’s a standard method of transport. So I learnt to cycle. It was fun, but hard work.”
It’s the same with Solmaz’ running. She hadn’t run since playing as a child, until someone persuaded her to take part in Blodomloppet, a 10-kilometre team running event organised by the blood donation service in Sweden.
“I found it extremely tiring. But sport is supposed to be fun, so I started to run and take it seriously. I compete against myself, and running far is more important than running fast. I’ve run several races since then, including the Midnight Run in Stockholm.”
You appear to be extremely focussed. What motivates you?
“I’ve always striven after goals. Even when I was a child, I knew that I didn’t want to become like the other women in my family – housewives with many children. If I’d stayed in Turkey, I would probably have been sitting and eating kebabs and baklava with my friends. But the society in Sweden is different. Sport is part of Swedish culture. People have time here to enjoy the natural world and it’s a way of spending time with others. I hope I can be an inspiration for others: If I can, anybody can. And it’s also good to combine training with my work. Sport helps me to focus when I’m at work, and makes me more productive.”
Last updated: 2017-03-17