Nihan Uslu

By: USA Games Correspondent, tynan gable

Loyal, dedicated, persistent; these are just a few words that come to mind when hearing the words “game changer”. These same words perfectly describe Nihan Uslu, this week’s nominee for the 2018 Special Olympics #ImAGameChanger campaign. But before we can understand how Nihan has impacted her community, we must first recognize the hard work that went in to get her to this point.

Five years ago, Nihan was a sedentary, uninvolved young adult with a disability. Her parents, Ana and Saffet Uslu, encouraged her to re-engage in her community through an outlet of physical activity. And that’s how she became re-acquainted with “Ms. Gigi”.

Gigi Frack Eryt, the owner of Golden Monkey Yoga and Martial Arts Innovations in Covina, CA, nominated Nihan for the Game Changer campaign, exclaiming, “How can we not talk about this girl? She’s amazing!”

Gigi had known and worked with Nihan on and off since she was 13. But Nihan’s interest in physical activity eventually dwindled to the point where it had been years since Gigi had last heard from the Uslu family.

But recently, Gigi has played a critical role in helping to make Nihan “feel strong and healthy and have higher self-esteem.”

Just how was this feat accomplished? She became regularly involved at Gigi’s yoga studio, first by force from her parents, but now by free will and desire. Nihan has learned from Gigi that, “Disabilities don’t stop you; you just need to step outside your box.”

Her attitude about yoga and physical activity quickly changed from dread to enthusiasm, and she has worked her way up to now spending 12 hours per day at the studio, during which she attends two to three sessions of yoga, six days a week. In addition to the physical benefits, being at the yoga studio allows her the opportunity to socialize.

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Nihan’s transformation in terms of overall strength and confidence is what has allowed her to now change the game for others. She is 27 years old, and she is empowering and inspiring others through her embodiment of those words: loyal, dedicated, persistent.

Today in the yoga studio, Nihan has assumed a sort of volunteer “assistant” role to Gigi. She helps set up the room, models poses, and pairs up with new students to encourage them to achieve their fitness goals the way that she did. Her skills and enthusiasm are so advanced that Gigi now relinquishes portions of some her teaching duties to Nihan with no doubt that she will keep the participants safe.

Nihan has followed in Gigi’s steps to become an accomplished and able yogi. But her aspirations now reach outside of the yoga studio. With extensive efforts from her parents, Nihan is now enrolled in horticultural school.

Saffed accompanies his daughter at school, and sometimes in the yoga studio, to ensure that she stays out of trouble in terms of talking to strangers or wandering off. He and Ana are both very supportive and giving individuals in the community. Between her parents, Gigi, and her therapists, Nihan has a great team to support her.

At age 27, it’s safe to say that Nihan had her game changed and is now changing the game for others. Despite her disability and the challenges it presents, Gigi explains that Nihan is “a great role model for other special needs adults because she has shown that, with work, dedication, and a positive team, you can do almost anything.”

Gigi is inspired by Nihan and knows that others are, too. “People see that, regardless of whatever hindrances you have, you can step forward and give to others. This will make life better for the individuals learning this lesson as well as the community as a whole.”

This story alone can change the game and serve as a reminder for all. Anybody and everybody has to be given an opportunity, no matter their level of ability.

“Give them an opportunity and they will shine,” Gigi said. “You just have to keep trying to reach that person and then let them open up. We all deserve to be happy.”