IOC Refugee Olympic Team swimmer Eyad Masoud: “Batman inspires me to be the hero of my own story”

The Syrian-born athlete, who moved to New Zealand in 2017 in search of a better life, tells Olympics.com why positivity changed his life, how mechanical engineering helps his swimming, and much more.

By Andrew Binner

If you’ve ever been to Waterhole Swim Club in Auckland, New Zealand, you may have seen Eyad Masoud training in a Batman swimming cap.

To the casual observer, it just looks like a cool fashion choice.

But for Eyad, a Syrian-born refugee that relocated to the other side of the world in order to fulfill his dream of competing internationally, the significance of the cap is deeper.

“I think that Batman inspires me to be the hero of my own story no matter what,” the butterfly specialist told Olympics.com.

“As a refugee you face a lot of doubts, a lot of ups and downs, and you've just got to be true to yourself and never take your eyes off your goals until you reach them. And that's the way I've been living my life in the past five years.”

The eye-catching black and yellow cap became popular on the local swimming circuit and helped Eyad gain some new fans. 

“I think a year ago I was racing and then somebody recognised me just because of the Batman thing. And they were like shouting ‘Go Batman’ in the middle of the race! So I kept using it.”

Feeling like an outsider in Saudi Arabia

Eyad’s life hasn’t always been so much fun.

After moving to Saudi Arabia as a child due to his father’s job, he was banned from using local swimming facilities as he was a foreigner. 

Faced with the prospect of quitting the sport, the swimmer met New Zealand-born coach David Wright, who was working with the national team in Saudi Arabia.

The Kiwi was immediately impressed by the young Syrian’s talent and invited him to join their training sessions.

But when Wright left the country, Eyad found himself barred from the pool once again.

Wright suggested that his mentee move to New Zealand in order to fulfill his swimming potential and so it was in 2017 that Eyad started his new life in Auckland.

How Eyad Masoud combines swimming and engineering

On top of his training, Eyad also taught a local swim class in order to relay valuable skills to kids in a country surrounded by water and to give back to the community that welcomed him.

He also enrolled at university to complete his mechanical engineering studies.

In 2019, he was awarded an IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship, which meant giving up on teaching to focus on competing, but he still found time to continue his higher education.

“I feel like both careers are really supporting each other. I'm not being distracted, but at the same time, I'm keeping my life more interesting and balanced.

“Also, I’ve brought a lot of attitudes and knowledge from sport into the engineering world and visa versa. They both teach a lot of commitment, and good values that every employer is looking for, or even every coach is looking for in a swimmer.”

The power of positivity

Despite missing out on selection for the Tokyo Olympics, Eyad persevered and made it onto the Refugee Team for the 2022 FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.

This achievement, combined with the hardship of successfully building a new life on the other side of the world, gave the swimmer newfound confidence in himself.

“The journey has taught me to stay focussed and stay true to myself and give myself credit because it's so easy to be sucked into the negative part of life. If you aren’t doing well, you aren’t performing, you're not on top of things.” he continued.

“And sometimes you just have to change that angle and be positive. I think I learned this skill and it really, really helped me a lot and I can see it radiating to the people around me as well.

“If you have a bad race, what did you learn? Let's just sit down and talk about it and try to find something positive. I keep asking my roommate every day to tell me something nice that happened to him that day.

"Changing that negative angle into a positive angle is a skill that was essential for me to survive and to be able to progress in my personal career as well.” - Eyad Masoud to Olympics.com

Another refugee swimmer that embraced a positive mindset at the 2022 World Championships is Alaa Maso. Find out how he was able to triumph over adversity in our interview for Refugee Day, 20 June, below.

Building strength through struggle

While it is unlikely that Eyad will beat his hero Caeleb Dressel in Budapest, the fact that he is competing in the same arena, the same competition as the seven-time Olympic champion is worthy of a gold medal in itself.

His inspirational story provides a beacon of hope to the 100 million displaced people around the world, the same way Batman inspires him.

But unlike Batman, Eyad’s advice to fellow refugees is to be true to themselves and to never pretend to be someone else.

“My message for the people who have been displaced or trying to build their life again would be to take the time to know your own quality and be true to your identity,” he said.

“Be true to yourself. It's very easy to lose part of who you are as a refugee and you get the sense of being lost, and that's very dangerous. So just take a step back and get to know who you are.

“You're not alone in this. It's also very easy to feel left out and feel lonely. But that's not the case. There's a lot of good people around. There's always ways to reach out if you're in trouble. That’s also part of what I tried to do; to represent that strength that we build with the struggle.”

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