Azad Al-Barazi Swims for the Civilians and Refugees of Syria at the 2016 Olympics

Azad Al-Barazi about to dive into the pool

Azad Al-Barazi set off to Rio where he swam the 100-meter Breaststroke for Syria in the 2016 Olympics. But you may have missed his story.

For Azad, it is truly a significant time to represent his community-- a time when there is a whirlwind of conflicting opinions about refugees, Syria, and the Middle East.

Azad did not wear the Syrian flag on his cap, however. Instead, it bore the simple “SYR”, embroidered and paid for by himself.

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In an interview with the Washington Post, Azad said, “It kind of gives me a bitter taste in my mouth when I see the Syrian flag next to my name, but I’ve gotten over it — it is what it is,” he said. “I’ve told people: ‘I’m not swimming for the president, I’m not swimming for the country — I’m swimming for the people.’ I feel like the Syrian people need to see me swimming.”

Azad has been a self-funded athlete since 2012 when the Syrian government notified him they would no longer fund his training, a motion on their part which coincided with the escalation of Civil War and the 2011 Arab Spring protests.

Azad has continued swimming despite losing funding and facing the difficult challenge of financially supporting his full-time training. So what’s kept him in the water? Above and beyond an obviously strong desire to medal at the Olympics, Azad has been motivated by what has evolved into an opportunity to offer the civilians and refugees of Syria a message of hope; "this new generation of Syrians can represent Syria in any way they choose, without being defined by war and wreckage", says Azad.

Waiakea is proud to help fund Azad’s trip to the 2016 Olympics.

Follow Waiakea on Instagram at @Waiakea for a special behind-the-scenes look at the 2016 Olympics with Azad Al-Barazi as he posts live on our Instagram Story.