Rami Anis, 24, is headed to Rio in less than 15 days to compete in the men’s 100 meter butterfly. When you look into Anis, it’s a little harder to find his swimming stats than if you’re looking up Ryan Lochte or Michael Phelps.
That’s because Anis is one of 10 refugee athletes on the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team, and the story of his determination to swim and represent all Syrians and refugees at the Olympics is incredible.
For Anis, and other refugee athletes on the team, the journey to Rio has been long.
Anis hails from Aleppo, the largest city in war-torn Syria, that today suffers from bombings and beheadings, with NGOs pleading for even just a 48-hour ceasefire.
Yet Anis is proud of his home country Syria.
He follows in the footsteps of his uncle, Majad, who also swam competitively for Syria. Under the guidance of his uncle, Anis grew up inspired to swim, developing a love for competitive swimming.
He tells of the country’s beauty and how he thrived in Aleppo before fleeing Syria to seek refuge in Belgium.
"I wish from my heart that there will be no more refugees and we can go back and participate for our country," Anis said.
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Anis left Syria in 2011 after kidnappings and bombings in Aleppo became a threat. For four years, he trained for swimming in Turkey. Then in October last year he decided to leave for Europe after being barred from swimming competitively in the country for not having Turkish citizenship.
“It’s like someone who is studying, studying, studying and he can’t take the exam,” Anis said.
Upon this news, Anis boarded a rubber dinghy crossing the Aegean Sea with other men, and many women and children, to his surprise. He made it Belgium and was granted asylum in December. Since then he has been training with Karen Van Bouwen — one of the best coaches in Belgium.
Similar to Yasra Mardini, the female refugee swimmer on the Refugee Olympic Team, Anis finds solace and peace in swimming.
“Swimming is my life,” Anis told UNHCR. “The swimming pool is my home.”