Picture by (c) dpa-Zentralbild

Meet Alaa Maso: The refugee swimmer who found peace in the pool

The IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship-holder from Syria selected to swim at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021
By Ashlee Tulloch

Swimming is in Alaa Maso's blood. It's also a family affair.

He started swimming as a four-year-old and was coached by his father after he retired from the army.

What started as a hobby developed to became a tool to help him cope with the conflict surrounding him in his home of Syria.

"Thanks to sports, I was able to detach myself from a lot of negativity and gain faith in my personal life during training; because the harder I trained, the better I got, and that's what I'm trying to build my life on - staying positive, creative and healthy and waiting for the sun to rise above us," Maso said.

The IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship-holder is now on the brink of achieving a life-long goal and competing at the Olympics in July.

Maso is one of the Refugee Athlete Scholarship-Holders selected to be a part of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team for the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021.

Ala Maso's journey to Germany and a new life

Born in Syria, Maso trained as both a swimmer and a triathlete. This was where he met and became friends with Rio 2016 IOC Refugee Olympic Team member Yusra Mardini.

From 2012- 2014 he was unable to successfully train as the situation in the country did not allow. But once he was able to be back in the pool, he found peace and joy.

In October of 2015 after his training facility has been damaged and conflict was rife in Syria, Maso decided to leave.

"The situation was always sinking and never rising up,'' he told Olympics.com.

What ensued was a long arduous journey through Europe with his older brother, on a quest to find refuge somewhere safe.

His parents still remain in Syria. He has not seen them since he departed six years ago.

Two weeks into the journey Maso was interviewed by media.

"I am swimmer, and there's no safety there are no reasons to continue our sport. No championships of the country, nothing," he told wffd.

Initially they resided in Holland before settling in Germany in 2016.

Once based in Hanover, he jumped back in the pool and resumed swim training.

Now 21 years old, he has been able to rebuild his life and return to school, making up for the years of education lost due to fleeing Syria.

Eyeing Tokyo 2020

A lover of pets and gaming, Maso isn't afraid to show his softer side.

But he's also not shy about being ambitious and swimming and competing is never far from his mind.

"Every day when I wake up, the second I'm awake, the first thing I think about in training and how I'm going to push myself. Every day is like qualification day for me," he told Olympics.com.

The one year delay of the Tokyo Games didn't deter him either. He saw it as an opportunity.

"I took it as a chance to level up."

Despite the challenges he's faced, swimming has always been a constant source of happiness and a connection to his father who he still hopes to be re-united with.

"Swimming has played a big role in my life.

"My time is very full with training sessions, but I'm really thankful for swimming because I really don't know what I would have done without swimming."

Refugee pride

Maso feels that refugees can be misunderstood.

While he acknowledges he's never received racist comments or threats, he feels more education and knowledge about refugees would be beneficial.

Speaking to Olympics.com on World Refugee Day in 2020 (June 20), Maso said, "it means a lot that the world has stopped seeing refugees as a problem and recognise them as real human beings who have overcome a lot."

The refugee swimmer selected for Tokyo

Alaa Maso was one of the athletes named a part of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team for the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021, which will be his first Olympics.

His inclusion was announced on the 8th June 2021.

The swimmer aims to remind the world that refugees have goals and dreams. His message to other refugees: "You're a survivor, don't let anybody put you down."