Refugee swimmer Eyad Masoud: "It's more than a sport, it's meditation, motivation... happiness"

Masoud was born in Syria and had to move to the other side of the world to get to try and make his swimming dreams come true.

By Ken Browne

For Eyad Masoud, swimming has always been his saviour.

"When I swim it is more than a sport. It is a meditation, a challenge, a motivation, an achievement and happiness," he told Sports Gazette.

"I can't put it in words but I can tell you what it taught me; patience, determination, concentration, humbleness and love."

When he and his family had to leave Syria because of civil war, swimming at the Olympics became a distant dream.

Taking refuge in Saudi Arabia where his father worked as a doctor, Masoud couldn't find a place to train due to restrictions on foreigners using public swimming pools and taking part in competitions.

But a chance meeting with New Zealand-born coach David Wright changed his life.

A new start in New Zealand

Wright was working with the national team in Saudi Arabia and was impressed by the young Syrian's talent, inviting him to train with the team.

But Wright soon returned home to New Zealand, and Masoud was once again refused access to the pool.

The Kiwi coach, who has trained Olympians, convinced him that a move to New Zealand was the best thing for his future and, after some extremely complicated visa issues and anxious waits, he moved alone to a new country.

That wasn't an easy transition.

"I thought the language and communication would be the biggest obstacle to adapt. But I found that it goes deeper than that," he continued.

"Coming to New Zealand and watching the news about Syria was very hurtful, I was not feeling safe especially after watching the destruction that happened.

"Staying in a country that is far away from my family was tough too."

Swimming is where he's always 'found himself', and it was the one constant in his life.

Sport and swimming the lifeline

Swimming was his saviour once more, alongside quality time with Wright's family. They helped him adapt and integrate.

"Through swimming and being around the pool I was able to find a job (as a swimming instructor)," Masoud continues.

"Also, being there frequently the regular people, the lifeguards and the cafe barristers began to know me.

"Hearing my story and seeing my determination to show up to training under any circumstances inspired them.

"It took courage to change. Courage I developed overcoming obstacles in my swimming training."

The Syrian-born swimmer says his biggest obstacles were practical and financial - making rent, having enough to eat and cover living expenses.

Eyad Masoud: "I want to represent a message of hope"

When news came through that he was to receive an IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship, he was finally able to dedicate himself to swimming worry free.

"I was extremely happy to receive the news," he said, "I was able to focus on my training and stress less about providing enough income to survive."

One of 56 promising refugee athletes around the world to receive a scholarship, Masoud did not make the final Olympic Refugee Team at the Tokyo Olympics, but his journey continues and his commitment to swimming is unshakeable with Paris 2024 on the horizon.

Beyond his own personal ambitions, this refugee swimmer realises that he represents something much bigger, and the power he has to inspire others.

"I want to represent a message of hope, I want to spread love and kindness. I want the world to be aware of the big number of refugees exists around the world, and that they have a lot of talents and skills.

"I also want to inspire the people that it only takes you to be happy, and it takes you to believe to achieve great things."

GO OLYMPIC. GET ALL THIS.

Free live sport events. Unlimited access to series. Unrivalled Olympic news & highlights.