For the first time in Olympics history, a 10-person all-refugee team will compete in the games, which begin Aug. 5 in Rio de Janeiro. Popole Misenga, a 24-year-old judo fighter originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is one of these nation-less athletes.

Popole Misenga near his home in one the favelas, or slums, in Rio. | (REUTERS/Pilar Olivares)

Misenga grew up in the eastern part of the DRC, one of the areas worst affected by the devastating 1998-2003 civil war that left more than 5 million dead, including his mother. Misenga was just nine when he was forced to flee his home on foot. He hid in a nearby forest for eight days until he was rescued and taken to an orphanage in the capital, Kinshasa, where he was introduced to judo. "When you are a child, you need to have a family to give you instructions about what to do, and I didn't have one," Misenga told the UN Refugee Agency. "Judo helped me by giving me serenity, discipline, commitment — everything."

Misenga practices in Rio. With the help of a charity, Misenga has daily judo classes and cross-training just like Brazilian athletes preparing for the Olympics. | (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Misenga became a professional judoka and though the sport helped him find purpose after the war, he was reportedly brutalized and belittled by his coaches while violence continued to plague his home country. In 2013, while traveling to Rio de Janeiro for the World Judo Championship, Misenga and his teammate, Yolande Bukasa Mabika, made a risky bid for asylum. They fled their hotel and lived on the streets before finding some support in a small community of Congolese. "In Congo, there's a lot of violence, a lot of war, a lot of confusion," he told Reuters "I decided to stay in Brazil to find a better life." Eventually, he registered as a refugee, was able to get a job, and resume training in his beloved sport.

Misenga and his nine teammates were chosen from among 43 refugee athletes. Misenga says their participation shows that you don't need a nation to do something important, to make a difference. "I want to be part of the Refugee Olympic Athletes team to keep dreaming, to give hope to all refugees and take sadness out of them," he said. "I will win a medal, and will dedicate it to all refugees." Below, a look at Misenga's new life and training before his Olympic debut.

Misenga's friend stitches a sponsor's badge on his judogi on April 14. | (YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images)

Misenga trains at the Reacao Institute on June 3. | (REUTERS/Pilar Olivares)


Misenga runs near his home in a Rio slum on June 3. | (REUTERS/Pilar Olivares)

Misenga and his DRC teammate Yolande Bukasa react during the new conference announcing they had both qualified for the Olympic refugee team. | (REUTERS/Pilar Olivares)

Misenga and his one-year-old son, Elias, in his home on June 3. | (REUTERS/Pilar Olivares)

Misenga kisses his partner Fabiana before going to train on April 14. | (YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images)