The underlying meaning of the word ‘Salud’ is ‘good health’ and this is an important part of our mission. In addition to producing healthy products in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way, we also encourage our employees, customers and consumers to be health conscious. Sport is a high priority for us. Salud Foodgroup understands that not every talented sports person has the financial means to launch a professional career. We also know how difficult it is to build a foundation and keep the momentum going. That's why Salud Foodgroup has developed the initiative ‘Together we make their dream come true’. Each quarter, we are going to shine the spotlight on a talented athlete and provide them with financial support—with the help of customers like you—to make their personal sporting dream a reality.

1st edition: Turkey - Elke Lale
We are selecting talented athletes from the countries where we export our products. This quarter, it was the inspiring Turkish-Dutch wheelchair fencer Elke Lale van Achterberg (18) who caught our attention. We talked to her about her sporting life.

‘When I was 13 years old, I fenced
against top athletes, even though I'd only
begun fencing less than a year before.’

Who is Elke?
I’m Elke. I'm 18 years old and I live in Amsterdam. I'm a wheelchair fencer and represent Turkey in competitions. In the Netherlands, I'm currently the only wheelchair fencer competing at a high level. I only train with pedestrians. That's what we call fencers who don't have a disability.

What does sport mean to you?
Sport means so much to me. I used to compete in artistic and rhythmic gymnastics competitions until I landed badly while doing a roll. I suffered a greenstick fracture (a bone fracture where the bone is broken but the bone tissue remains intact). Because of this fracture, I developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Unfortunately, this meant I ended up in a wheelchair. I underwent six months of inpatient rehabilitation at a rehabilitation centre, but it did not have the desired effect. I couldn't move my foot and toes anymore. I had extreme nerve pain 24/7. I couldn't do gymnastics anymore and I fell into a depression as a result of everything I'd experienced. I thought to myself: I need to find another sport. Finally, I participated in a trail lesson for wheelchair fencing. During this lesson, I smiled for the first time since my accident. From then on, I knew what I wanted to do: wheelchair fencing.

When did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career as a professional athlete?
Six months after I began wheelchair fencing, my club was invited by Germany to take part in the Open German Championships. Against all expectations, I came third in the mixed youth classification and was the best girl overall. Thanks to two referees who had watched me fence, I was invited to the Senior World Cup. A few months later, I was a 13-year-old fencing at my first World Cup. I fenced against Paralympic, World and European champions and won just a single point by the end of the competition. But after this experience, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career as a wheelchair fencer.

‘I was in so much pain but I didn't
want to let it show so I kept fencing.’ 

Which titles are you most proud of?
I never expected this would happen, but a few months ago I became the U17 Foil World Champion in Poland.

In 2014, I won the IWAS Award “Wheelchair Athlete with International Potential” during the World Junior Games Stoke Mandeville (UK). I was awarded this title by the “International Wheelchair & Amputee Sports Federation” out of a pool of 350 athletes, from 31 countries, competing in 6 different sports. In 2017, I won the titles World Number One U23 Women's Épée, World Number One U17 Women's Foil and World Number One U17 Women's Épée.
In addition to these medals and awards, I was also named ‘Young Person of the Year’ by the youth newspaper 7Days in November 2017 for my achievements as a wheelchair fencer and my efforts to create more diversity in fashion and the media. I have modelled in campaigns for De Bijenkorf, Fiat Netherlands and L’Oréal Paris Turkey. I also walked the catwalk at Amsterdam Fashion Week twice. In addition, I'm an ambassador for the SUE's Warriors Foundation, which shares my mission of promoting diversity.

‘In two years’ time, I want to win gold at the Paralympics.’

What has been the worst experience of your sporting career?
My worst experience was at the Open German Championships in 2014. In the quarter-final my opponent's weapon hit my left leg, the one with CRPS. It caused a shooting pain that ran from my lower leg to my upper leg. I fenced in the semi-final with tears rolling down my cheeks. I was in so much pain, but I didn't want to let it show so I kept fencing. After I lost by a hair and removed my mask, everyone thought I was crying because I lost. Which was understandable, but I was crying because of the intense pain and the fact that I kept going in spite of it. The pain in my upper leg never went away after that. On 3 April 2015, I had an elective amputation. After my lower leg was amputated, the pain in my upper leg went away.

What do you hope to have achieved in five years’ time?
If I continue to develop myself as well as I have done in previous years, I think I can compete for medals at the top international senior level. Last year, I already fenced in the senior quarter-finals, even though I was injured and was unable to train optimally. If I train regularly and intensively and I can avoid injury, I think I can go far. I hope that in two years I can say that I participated in the Paralympic Games and won gold.

Want to know more about Elke Lale van Achterberg? Follow her online:
-Facebook: Wheelchair Fencer Elke Lale van Achterberg
-Instagram: @elkelale

-Twitter: @elkelale and @ElkeLaleEskrim
-YouTube: Elke Lale van Achterberg