The Paralympic Games kicked off on Tuesday night, but amid the unrest in Afghanistan in recent weeks, only one Afghan athlete will be competing — and he's on the refugee team.
The Refugee Paralympic Team entered the opening ceremony led by Abbas Karimi, an Afghan swimmer. He will most likely be the only Afghan in this year's Paralympics after the Taliban's takeover in Afghanistan prevented two Afghan Paralympians from traveling to Tokyo, reports The New York Times.
Karimi, 24, fled Afghanistan in 2013, moved between four different refugee camps in Turkey and settled in the U.S. as a refugee in 2016. Karimi didn't swim for months when the pandemic hit and pools closed in Portland, where he lived, he told the Times on Wednesday. He moved to Florida, where pools were open, after connecting with Marty Hendrick, a masters coach in Fort Lauderdale.
Born without arms, Karimi relies solely on leg power to swim. Once in Florida, Karimi worked with Hendrick to improve his dolphin kick, which is "significantly faster than his two-leg flutter kick" Hendrick told the Times.
However, Karimi says it's "very, very hard" to compete with what is happening in Afghanistan. He has a brother who is currently trying to also become a U.S. refugee. At the opening ceremony, an official carried the flag of Afghanistan in solidarity with the Afghan athletes who will likely no longer compete. Even so, Karimi posted to Instagram a picture of him in a pool captioned, "Dream came true."