Eid hoping to make waves on refugee squad at Paris Olympic Games

Eid Aljazairli – who didn’t know how to swim in 2018 – is hoping to make his dreams come true and qualify for the Refugee Olympic Team at the games in Paris.

Following a near death experience in the water when fleeing from the war in his home country of Syria, Eid has since developed a passion for swimming and is now within touching distance of reaching the team’s qualifying time.

It’s a goal that would mean the world to Eid as he aims to inspire people from across the world to take up the sport.

He said: “Making it to Paris 2024 and really being part of the Refugee Olympics team would mean the world to me, especially for someone who had never swum before and has had so many obstacles.

“I’m not swimming to win, for medals and all that. I’m really swimming to inspire others and really be part of that team.

“The Refugee Olympic team isn’t just about winning, it’s about being one family, one community, and inspiring people to show the whole world that there is so much hope.

“Every single refugee, whether in the Olympic team or not, has got a crazy story. In Tokyo, the refugee swimmer from Germany that competed became a real idol for me and inspired me even more to swim and join him.

“And we speak every now and then and he says ‘I really hope that you make it so we will be together on that team together’. It’s become like a family that’s from all across the world.”

‘I just love the sport’

When he arrived in the UK in 2018, Eid lived in a YMCA hostel in London and grew a passion for swimming after accidentally stumbling upon videos of Michael Phelps.

He lived on just £5 a day and predominantly taught himself how to swim, whilst also securing a few free lessons along the way.

Within six months Eid mastered the four strokes and in 2019 was awarded with the ‘Adult Achievement Award’ at the Swim England National Awards.

He’s been training with Anaconda Swimming Club and has since become a member of Camden Swimming Club before joining the King’s College London swimming team where he’s studying for an accounting and finance degree.

His initial goal was to go to Tokyo but missing a year in the pool due to the pandemic stopped his progression. However, Eid’s unwavering spirit meant he couldn’t give up on his dream.

“The goal was Tokyo but covid happened and in swimming, if you miss a day, you can need two days to come back to the same level.

“So how about missing a year when you’d never swum in your life? My technique had completely gone.

“I was devastated, heartbroken, my mental health was awful. When you believe that you were going to do something and you can’t do it, it made me stop swimming.

“I said, ‘I’m not going to swim anymore’ but three months later I kept waking up at 4:15 in the morning and I knew I still had that same passion, the same fire.

“I decided that I just wanted to go and swim whether there’s an Olympics or not. I love the sport. I want to change the sport and by doing that I don’t have to be Michael Phelps. I can do that by just inspiring others.”

Overcoming challenges

Away from the pool Eid’s had more challenges to overcome. When he arrived in the UK he didn’t know the language so has had to study hard to continue his education that was cut short when he had to leave Damascus University.

He was rejected by a number of UK universities because he did not speak English when he arrived but after three years of trying he finally secured a place at King’s College London.

“Living at the YMCA hostel, I found that I was learning the language and swimming at the same time. I think that’s one of the most challenging things that I’ve ever faced here.

“I think swimming helped me a lot to get through those times where I was still learning English and was getting rejected from universities for three years in a row.

“But after all that hard work it was such a good moment to finally reach King’s College London. I started my foundation year and I got a really good grade which gave me a place to start my undergraduate course at King’s.

“It’s very challenging to be a full-time student and swimmer at the same time but now I am in my final year and looking forward to a future opportunity within the asset management and Investment Banking roles.

“My family’s still back in Damascus which is also very hard. I’m here by myself and it’s difficult to share what you’re really going through sometimes.

“I try like to call them but in Syria, every single day they have four hours of no electricity, then two hours on, four hours on, two hours off and it’s tricky. At the end of the day, however, you have to do your absolute best to really show your family and refugees around the world that you’re making the most of your opportunity and that you can make an impact.”

When he arrived in the UK, Eid also had a fear of the water which he explained alongside his aims to inspire others to learn to swim as part of our England Swims campaign.

This summer Eid will look to join the club of just two swimmers that have represented the refugee team since the team was created ahead of the Rio games in 2016.

His next big event is this weekend’s British Universities Long Course Swimming Championships at Ponds Forge where he’ll represent King’s College London.

It’s one of a number of competitions in the coming months where he’ll attempt to set more personal best efforts in order to reach his ultimate goal.

“If you asked me, would you be able to do it all over again? I would say I’m not really sure. But what a journey it has been and what I’ve learnt is how to survive and I’m still surviving and looking to achieve my goal.

“When I started swimming again I knew that I had to prioritise my studies and then see where this went. So I started training with King’s College London two or three times a week and then I’ve been training more by myself.

“Then I had a competition and I dropped my time in the 50m Freestyle by seven seconds in one competition and it just gave me that belief that I was getting back to that level where reaching Paris was possible and I really hope I can achieve that.”

You can watch Eid and the rest of the action at the BUCS Long Course Swimming Championships 2024 live on YouTube here. The three day competition begins on Friday 23 February and concludes on Sunday 25 February.