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Syrian refugee swimmer sets sights on Tokyo Paralympics

When he lost his lower leg to a 2012 bomb in Syria, Ibrahim al-Hussein never imagined he would one day swim in the pool where his Olympic idols broke records.

In 2016, he was the flag bearer for a refugee team making its debut at the Rio Paralympics. He is now eyeing a return to competition in Tokyo.

“Nothing is impossible,” said the 32-year-old as he began a day of training at the Athens Olympic complex pool.

“You have to fight, with your body, with your heart… you can do anything you want in your life,” al-Hussein said.

As a child, he would swim along the banks of the Euphrates River with his father, already harbouring Olympic dreams.

When he was 15, al-Hussein would follow the exploits of Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps in the 2004 Athens Olympics from his home in the Syrian city of Deir Az Zor.

His hopes came crashing down when Syria was engulfed in civil war in 2011 and his family was forced to flee.

Al-Hussein stayed behind at first, but after his right leg was injured in the bomb blast and it had to be amputated, he had to leave too, reaching Greece via Turkey in February 2014.

Like tens of thousands of other refugees, he made the risky Aegean Sea crossing and landed on the Greek island of Samos.

After living on the streets of Athens for a two weeks, al-Hussein was directed by a fellow Syrian to Angelos Chronopoulos, a Greek doctor who gave him a prosthetic limb.

Acquiring refugee status in 2015, he was able to find work and start to pick up the pieces.

After notching victories in Greek disability sports competitions, he caught the attention of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, which picked him to carry the 2016 Rio Games torch through the Athens refugee camp of Eleonas.

After that, the International Paralympic Committee offered him a chance to join the first-ever refugee team for the Rio Games, and to carry its flag into the historic Maracana Stadium.

Al Jazeera
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