Local Team: Oregon Reign Masters
Abbas Karimi is one of the newer members of Oregon Reign Masters swim team which trains at Mount Hood Community College in Gresham. It’s hard not to notice Abbas when he is in the pool because, without a doubt, he is one of the better kickers on the team.
Abbas was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, a country that has been at war for decades. This would be a difficult existence for any human to endure but Abbas was born without arms. In an interview with KATU Abbas states “In Afghanistan they disrespect disabled people and see disabled people as hopeless. They think we cannot do anything and are just useless.” Abbas knew he needed a better life and with the help of his older brother he made the excruciatingly difficult decision to leave his family behind and flee the only country he had ever known. He flew to Iran and then fled to Turkey illegally as a refugee. It was a dangerous journey to United Nations headquarters. “I did it to save my life,” he says. “At home there were always bombs exploding and lots of people dying.” Abbas left behind two older brothers, a younger brother, and his mother and father.
It was on Facebook three years later that he connected with Mike Ives, a former teacher and Lincoln High School wrestling coach. Mike saw a video of Abbas swimming on Facebook and reached out to him. Ives is now Karimi’s host parent in Portland.
Growing up, Karimi wrestled in Afghanistan pinning his opponents with his strong legs. At a young age, despite being told that “you cannot swim without arms”, Abbas plunged into a pool wearing a life jacket. He was terrified of the water but a lifeguard encouraged him to keep swimming. Karimi trained by himself day after day until one day he left his life jacket behind and caught the eye of an Afghan swim coach. The coach saw something special in Karimi and begin to teach him certain techniques. In 2012, Karimi became a member of the Afghan national swimming team and won his first gold medal in Paralympic swimming in Turkey in 2013. “His efforts rewarded him with a gold medal, which is unprecedented in the history of Afghanistan and the region,” said Sayed Ehsanullah Taheri, Head of the Afghanistan Swimming Federation following Karimi’s win. At the US Indianapolis Para Swimming World Series in June, 2017, Abbas Karimi won two gold medals. His wins made him the first Afghan to qualify for the 2017 World Para Swimming Championships to be held in Mexico City later this year. The competition was originally scheduled for September, 2017, but had to be postponed due to the massive earthquake that struck just weeks before. The Championship meet took place between 27 November and 7 December. “I’m excited,” he says. “I’m nervous, but I’m training hard, and it will pay off.”
Despite all of this there is still something more important on the horizon for Karimi. “I’m trying to get my younger brother, Asgar Karimi, to come to America. I really want him to get over here,” he says. “He’s not in a safe place and I miss him so much.”
The latest update on Asgar is that he has left Afghanistan and is now in a refugee camp in Turkey. With the help of Mike Ives they are trying to bring him to the United States.