Kiwi refugee abandoned his family and country to pursue swimming dream, now eyeing Olympic Games

Eyad Masoud loves to swim but it's taken him abandoning his family and turning his back on his country of birth to be able to truly pursue his dream.

“It wasn't an easy decision to be honest and I regretted it a million and one times but at the end of the day, I was like, it could never get worse.”

The 24-year-old was born in Syria and grew up in Saudi Arabia, two places where trying to become a top swimmer is tough. For years Syria has been at war while in Saudi Arabia foreigners aren't allowed to use government pools.

“I quit like three times and I honestly until this moment I don’t know why I came back.”

One reason he did was former Olympic coach Kiwi David Wright. He was with the national team in Saudi Arabia and sought palace approval for talented Eyad to join their trainings.

“Even when i got him permission to swim in the pool he used to have to park outside the fence but the Saudi swimmers were allowed inside the fence” says David.

When the NZ coach left, Eyad was once again kicked out of the training facility, David convincing him to come and compete in New Zealand where the young Syrian eventually applied for refugee status.

While swimming is easier here.. life is more of a juggle. Eyad balances a job to pay the bills, as well as full time engineering study and training.

David says his talent is not in question.

“He would be between 10th and 15th in New Zealand just now but that doesn't really reflect his talent, it reflects 20 years of lost opportunity in Syria and Saudi Arabia.”

But there may be a way to turn that adversity into a positive, Eyad wants to race for the International Olympic Committee's refugee team who competed for the first time in Rio. His 100 metre freestyle personal best is nearly three seconds faster than that recorded by the team in 2016.

“It's a bit of motivation for me to continue swimming cos I never had that I never had that high level of competing to go to and the IOC’s offering that to me”.

The New Zealand Olympic Committee is still investigating the criteria for selection but in the meantime Eyad continues to train and compete, in the hope of making his case for selection as strong as possible.

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Eyad Masoud grew up in Saudi Arabia where he wasn’t accepted – until a Kiwi Olympic coach offered him a new path. Source: 1 NEWS

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