Silan Ayyildiz has come a long way in a short time, and she came a long way to do that. The middle-distance runner for South Carolina track and field is a native of Istanbul, Turkey, where she was a Turkish champion, and after arriving on campus for the 2023 spring semester, she recently won the 1500-meter race at the SEC Outdoor championships and looks to carry that over to the upcoming NCAA meets.
“During indoor season, I was ready physically, but I wasn’t ready mentally,” said Ayyildiz, a sophomore who is studying sport and entertainment management. “When I finished (at SEC Outdoors), I was really happy because I worked so hard. I was so stressed before the race because there are really good competitors at SECs!
“When I was at the Turkish Championships, it was easier. Everyone is so fast in America. The SEC is the best conference. That is what I had heard. My competitors were so fast! You have to train more and more if you want to win.”
For those not familiar, running the 1500-meter race means you’re basically sprinting for a mile, and she did that in four minutes and 17 seconds.
“The 1500 is really so hard,” said Ayyildiz who started running competitively while in middle school and her coach wanted her to focus on that event. “You have to be fast, and you have to have endurance training. I have hard workouts three times per week.”
That includes numerous sprints ranging from 400 to 800 meters in each workout.
“I really want to run one day in the Olympics.”
As you might imagine, getting from Turkey to South Carolina isn’t your typical recruiting trip. She met Gamecock assistant coach Andrew Allden in 2021 while competing in Estonia at the U23 European World Championships.
“He wanted me to come here then, but I wasn’t sure because it’s a completely different country and a different culture,” Ayyildiz said. “I thought it was too far from home, so I didn’t come in 2021. In 2022, I wanted to talk to Coach Allden and see if he still wanted me. I talked with my family, and they were OK for me to come here.”
Part of her change of heart came from the difficulty she had in training in Turkey, where she had to travel two hours each way every day to train.
“I decided to come here because the training and the education would both be very good,” Ayyildiz said. “So, it’s really good to be here for athletics and academics. I really miss my family, but when I was in Turkey, I was always traveling for training because it was far away.”
Being far from home isn’t easy, especially after a massive earthquake hit her homeland earlier this year. Shortly after that, she was able to return to Turkey to compete and also check in on her family and friends.
“My family lives more north of where the earthquakes were, so my family wasn’t really affected, but my friend’s family was affected,” Ayyildiz said. “More than 50,000 people died. I really wanted to run at the European Championships. It affected all of the athletes. We all wanted to run and represent our country after the earthquake.”
As one would expect, coming to South Carolina required her to make a lot of adjustments on the fly.
“The food is really different!” Ayyildiz said with a laugh. “Americans like a lot of fast food and junk food. We have really good food in Turkey that is healthier.
“The first couple of days were really difficult (because of the language barrier). I didn’t unpack my bags for maybe three or four days. But, I’m glad I’m here.”
Ayyildiz started learning English only three years ago, and while she is sometimes self-conscious about mastering the language, she does just fine and is adapting to the various accents she encounters. What is perfectly clear are her goals for the future.
“I really want to run one day in the Olympics,” said Ayyildiz, who also plans to run cross country for the Gamecocks in the fall. “The Olympics mean so much to me.”
Ayyildiz looks forward to competing at the NCAA Regional later this week in Jacksonville, Fla., with the hopes of moving on to the national championship meet in Texas. After that, she will compete in several meets in Europe over the summer.
For now, she enjoys the fact that bother her training and her classes are much closer than what she experienced back home. Even if she has to get from one end of campus to the other, she can probably run there in less than four minutes.
“Training here is so much easier to me, and school here is easier because everything is so close,” Ayyildiz said. “It’s really good to have everything close to me. I love it!”
Check out the full conversation with Silan in our Gamecock Talk podcast!