Neslihan Demir: Leader, iron lady, flag carrier and mother
June was a happy month away from the court for Turkish volleyball star Neslihan Demir. The 30-year-old married actor Kamil Güler in a beautiful wedding dress in the Aegean town of Alaçatı. Not long after, the European Volleyball Federation (CEV) named the captain of the Turkish national team “The Ultimate Volleyball Team Leader” in a big ceremony in Vienna’s Hofburg Palace.
"That leadership is not something you can learn, it comes from inside, from your heart, and it drives you to sacrifice yourself for your teammates," Demir said at the award ceremony. "I am very happy with this prize, though I was hoping to win the one for the newcomer of the year." That was obviously a joke – after all, Neslihan Demir has been one of volleyball’s biggest global stars for over a decade. Her charismatic presence both on and off the court, as well as her tremendous contribution to the team’s performance, are something both her teammates and her opponents look up to. At the same time, she is also the face of the volleyball boom in Turkey and has more than earned her nickname of the “Iron Lady of Turkish Volleyball”.
Demir started out on her international career as a 19-year-old back in 2003 and hit the ground running in the national team: silver was Turkey’s first medal at the European Championships. Even today, Demir still views the 3-0 victory over Russia in the preliminary round as "one of the greatest moments of my career."
The top attacker then ensured that Turkey made its mark on the FIVB World Championships for the first time: the team made its debut at the finals in 2006, finishing tenth at the first attempt, before claiming sixth place in 2010. Demir was a scoring machine, contributing more than her fair share of the points. She is the only player to be named "Best Scorer" for two consecutive World Championships, racking up 225 points in 2006 and 251 in the 2010 World Championship.
These two titles form just a small part of the collection of awards for best scorer, best spiker, best server and most valuable player the 1.87m lady has received over the course of her career – not to mention the medals (including bronze at the 2011 European Championships and the 2012 FIVB World Grand Prix). An incredible success story for a woman who was introduced to volleyball in 1995 with the help of her physical education teacher. Perhaps the pinnacle of her sporting life came at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, for which the Turkish volleyball ladies had qualified for the first time. Neslihan was granted the honour of carrying her national flag at the opening ceremony, as the ‘face of Turkey’.
Her performances as an outstanding volleyball player are not the only things to have been honoured. “Neslihan is a perfect role model as a mother, one of the best volleyball players in the world and a person who stands for values such as team spirit, fair play and professionalism,” CEV President André Meyer once said. The global star is also the happy mother of a daughter. Zeynep Penelope is the sunshine of her life and has often been seen post match with her mother in volleyball halls around the world.
"I think that it is my duty to use my popularity in order to show women that it is possible to combine work and family – even if you have to travel really often," Neslihan said. And, after a short spell playing in Spain, it was family that drew her back to Istanbul, where she plays with Eczacibasi. She reached the final of last season’s European Champions League with her club and was named “Best Spiker”.
In January, she led the Turkish national team to the 2014 FIVB World Championships in Italy. Turkish Volleyball Federation Vice-President Mr Mustafa Eksi said: “I hope and believe that our girls will once again make us proud and happy after the 2014 FIVB World Championships. We are a high quality and strong team.” A team spearheaded by Neslihan Demir, a remarkable leader, iron lady and mother.