From Syria to the Paralympics: A refugee finds strength in kayaking – InfoMigrants

Amongst The numerous athletes On the Tokyo Paralympics are six members of the refugee group. Definitely one of manym is Syrian kayaker Anas Al Khalifa. DW’s Ben Bathke heard his extraordinary and shifting story in Germany earlier than he fl…….

Amongst The numerous athletes On the Tokyo Paralympics are six members of the refugee group. Definitely one of manym is Syrian kayaker Anas Al Khalifa. DW’s Ben Bathke heard his extraordinary and shifting story in Germany earlier than he flew to Japan.

On a wrestlemth and sunny August day, Anas Al Khalifa is teaching Collectively with his coach on the Saale river Inside the japanese German metropolis of Halle.

The two8-yr-previous Syrian fled from the wrestle in his house nation in 2011 and arrived in Germany 4 yrs later. Watching him information his kayak powerfully by way of the quiet water with even strokes and a concentrated face, It is exhausting To imagine about that he solely started training Decrease than half a yr in the past. You in all probability additionally Wouldn’t discover that He is wheelchair-sure.

In December 2018, Anas suffered a spinal twine damage when he fell off the roof of a two-storey constructing the placeas placing in photo voltaic panels in close by Magdeburg, leaving him paralyzed from the waist dpersonal.

“After the accident, I Did not know what to do,” Anas tprevious DW. “I wasn’t In a place to work, Might not stroll, my life was over. However this sport has modified my complete life. The incapametropolis is in your head solely. You will Have The power to do every thing, even Do You’d like to’ve misplaced your legs or arms. There have been On A daily basis good people by my facet.”

A Sort of people is Ognyana Dusheva. The Bulgarian Olympic medalist has coached kayaking and canoeing in seven nations, together with Turkey, Iran and China. A yr in the past, the 57-yr previous, acknowledged a Ogi, met Anas On the canoe membership in Halle the place she was working as a Para coach. His physicompletely differentapist had inspired him to try kayaking.

“I noticed strong boy Inside the wheelchair with very unhappy eyes. There was nothing. I requested him: ‘Do You should do sport with me? Kayak? It’s one boat, And that i can get you ready for Tokyo.’ ‘What’s that this Tokyo?,’ he requested. I said: ‘The Paralympic Video games, It is everyone’s dream.'”

Success regardless of restricted assets

In late June, about one yr after he first sat in a kayak, Anas was named one of six members of the refugee group for the Tokyo Paralympics. The 5 males and one woman hail from Afghanistan, Burundi, Iran and Syria, representing 4 sports activities – athletics, swimming, canoeing, taekwondo — and presently stay and practice in Germany, Greece, Rwanda and America.

Anas Al Khalifa has been teaching exhausting Collectively with his coach, Ognyana Dusheva | Photograph: Getty (by way of DW)

To understand his objective, Anas educated 3 occasions a day, seven days Every week. His practice regime is so intense that he wants a neck and again therapeutic massage each Evening time, he says. While the therapeutic massages are Freed from cost As a Outcome of of the German nationwide Para group, he has to cowl most completely different funds out of his personal pocket.

“I need protein, dietary vitamins and completely different issues to compete on a extreme diploma,” Anas says. “My want is to be dealt with like All of the completely different athletes.”

However it hasn’t been a diploma having fun with area. In distinction to the German Para athletes teaching for Tokyo, Anas Desired to pause his on-the-water teaching Collectively with his coach for six months As a Outcome of of pandemic. It wasn’t till late March, simply 5 months earlier than the Video games, that he was In a place To renew.

Based mostly on coach Ogi, her earlier athletes typically had A complete yr To rearrange for A contest. “I can not put into phrases what Anas has carried out. He by no means said it was An extreme quantity of. Nobody else could have carried out what he did.”

From Syria to Germany in 4 yrs

After teaching, Anas invites me to his small apartmalest, which he presently shares Collectively with his sister and her two youthful youthfulsters. His sister serves a scrumptious Syrian dish, adopted by baklava and knafeh deserts with Arabic espresso. However there’s little else Inside the apartmalest from their houseland. They Wanted To go away every thing behind 10 yrs in the past when he fled the wrestle.

After spending two yrs in a camp for internally displaced people, Anas escaped to close by Turkey, the place he labored as a fruit picker. From there, he finally traveled to Germany by way of Greece. He wasn’t constructive he’d survive the month-prolonged odyssey.

He recollects being on an overcrowded boat crossing from Turkey to a Greek island As quickly as they ran out of gasoline. When he converses about it, his voice cracks with emotion.

“The waves have been rocking the boat from left to proper, we have been ready for Half-hour,” he explains, his voice cracking with emotion. “Definitely one of many boys said he could repair it, However The lads Must leap into the water. We Did not have a selection.”

All males leaped into the water, solely womales And youthfulsters keeped on the boat, the boy managed to restart the engine, They typically finally made it to safety. “As quickly as we ran out of gasoline, all of us thought We’d die,” says Anas. “Nobody would have heard us cry or scream Inside the water.”

A bit accident in December 2018 left Syrian refugee Anas with out Using his legs | Photograph: Getty (by way of DW)

Devastating information, new motivation

All by way of this and completely different troublesome occasions, like his life-altering damage, Anas On A daily basis had his brcompletely different To converse to and Open up to. However eight months in the past, his brcompletely different was killed in Syria. The two hadn’t seen Every completely different since their househprevious was separated in 2011. Anas was devasaid. However coach Ogi tprevious him his brcompletely different would need him to proceed teaching.

“It was a shock for me, first because I do know Anas is a expertise, and he can change his life On this boat,” she said. “I tprevious him: ‘No, You have To Carry on this sport because your brcompletely different liked this sport. He Shall be there Inside the sky and He’ll shield and Assist you to. You should proceed for him.'”

“And so On The prime of March, we started teaching Once again. And On A daily basis I really feel that this new power and motivation for teaching acquired here As a Outcome of of his brcompletely different. Anas Desires to do his biggest and say, ‘brcompletely different, I did this for you.'”

With Ogi’s help, Anas once Once again managed To Search out power in adversity and make his dream of competing Inside the Paralympics come true. “My first objective in Tokyo is to win a medal. The second objective is to win for my brcompletely different. He supported me Tons,” he said.

After Tokyo, Anas has his eyes set on the canoe dash world championships in mid-September. His subsequent huge objective is to compete On the Paris Video games in 2024 — on the German ticket.

Author: Benjamin Bathke

First revealed: September 1, 2021

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