“2016 was definitely the best year of my life. But Rio was just the start."
Ibrahim Al-Hussein and Shahrad Nasajpour became a global news story when they competed as part of the Independent Paralympic Athletes’ Team at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
Representing the millions of people displaced by conflict and persecution, especially those making perilous journeys to reach safety, the pair of athletes also had a special mission – to raise awareness of the plight of refugees with impairments.
Their incredible journey to Rio 2016 enters at No. 6 in the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) Top 50 Moments of 2016.
For Syrian born Al-Hussein, the confirmation that he would compete at the Paralympics was the realisation of a life-long ambition.
“I have been dreaming of this [competing at the Games] for 22 years,” he said before he left for Brazil. “I thought my dream had gone when I lost my leg but now it is back for real. I can’t believe I am going to Rio.”
A keen swimmer and judoka prior to losing his leg in a rocket attack in his home town of Deir-Al-Zour, Al-Hussein had fled Syria seeking treatment, taking a boat to Turkey and on to Athens, Greece. He first came to the world’s attention when he carried the Olympic Torch through the Eleonas refugee camp.
A few months later the IPC announced that it would be taking Al-Hussein and Nasajpour to Rio 2016, following on from the idea of the Olympic Refugee Team.
Competing in the men’s 50m and 100m freestyle S9, Al-Hussein would carry the flag for the IPA Team at the Opening Ceremony, reach personal bests in the pool, receive the Whang Youn Dai Award and attract global media coverage.
“2016 was definitely the best year of my life. But Rio was just the start,” Al-Hussein said. “All these years of hard training and dedication as a child and competing nearly came to a stop when I got injured, but I kept going on and it all came together in Rio which was the highest point in my life.
“Since I returned from Rio my life has taken a 360 degree turn. It opened doors for me. People know about me more, they recognise me. And people take more care of me now.”
Al-Hussein has also been recognised by the Spanish General Council of the Bar, winning the Human Rights Award with the Olympic Refugee Team.
Al-Hussein competed in Rio alongside Iranian-born Nasajpour, who competed in the men’s discus F37 and carried the flag at the Closing Ceremony. Both athletes were supported by a Chef de Mission, coaching and support staff.
“Rio was my biggest ever sport event and being part of such a big event was a great experience,” Nasajpour said. “You compete with the best in the world, and it made me more determined to keep going and try harder in all I do.
“I took part in the Rio Games with the IPA Team to show, in any situation with any difficulty, do not give up and stop working for anything. You have the heart for it.”
The International Paralympic Committee has pledged to support the IPA Team into 2017, where Nasajpour is aiming to compete at the World Para Athletics Championships in London, Great Britain, and Al-Hussein the World Para Swimming Championships in Mexico City.
To find out more about the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2016, visit the dedicated page on the IPC’s website.