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Cycling

Journey of the 'Wanted' cyclist from Syria who made it to the Olympics

Syrian cyclist Badreddin Wais Ahmad overcame a lot of struggles before he made it into the Rio 2016 Olympics

Olympic-bound cyclist Badreddin Wais was once wanted in Syria
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Olympian cyclist Badreddin Wais Ahmad (Source: Velonews)

By

Monish Naidu

Updated: 2021-07-21T22:41:47+05:30

If a nature aficionado visits the Jura mountains surrounding the lake city of Lausanne near Geneva, the person would be mesmerized by the serenity that engulfs the town running along the French-Swiss border.

If you're lucky then you might run into a determined Badreddin Wais Ahmad on one of his daily rides up or down the hill. After all, he has travelled thousands of kilometers by various means to realize this dream. A dream to make the world believe that his country Syria, is much more than a land of bloodshed and cruelty.

Born in the capital city Aleppo of the most populous Syrian state, Wais picked up cycling at the age of 14. Peculiarly, Syria didn't have a rich history of cyclists. Wais showed promise early and represented Syria in the World Junior Championship in 2009.

The 18-year-old became the first Syrian cyclist to take part in the Junior Championships. This is when he knew he could carve a niche for himself and his country in this profession. Expectedly, Wais continued training through thick and thin. Even though the devastating civil war erupted in 2011.

When it became almost impossible to train in Aleppo, Wais moved to Damascus as a student and continued to train and survive when millions of innocent civilians were falling prey to the war. The Badreddin family moved to Turkey but Wais remained adamant that he wants to continue to train in Damascus.

Disaster struck in 2014. The university was attacked and Wais lost all his friends in the aftermath. It had become virtually impossible for Wais to survive in Damascus without a single pennyworth of support.

As audacious as he continues to be even now, Wais set out to flee Syria in his car. Driving for almost three hours to get to Beirut and then driving a day to get to the Turkish coast to find a smuggler's boat to ferry him across the Aegean Sea to Greece.

"Those were very, very tough moments in my life," he says while speaking to The New Indian Express about his adventures.

He had to lay low in Turkey while he could get a new passport and then hope that the Swiss government issues the necessary documents for him to seek asylum in Lausanne, home to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters.

Although, the thrill didn't end at seeking a home in a distant land. All this while when Wais was doing a Magellan, he was wanted by the Syrian military. Yes! You read that right. He was WANTED.

Syria, being a military-governed nation, is compulsory for every male citizen aged more than 18 to serve in the military. Wais in his fleeing ensured that he was classified for evading conscription. A crime, that could potentially get him executed if caught.

Even with such a plethora of socio-political drama padding his life, Wais continues to remain hopeful for a better future in Syria. After the voyage took a huge toll on him, he decided to take a break from cycling after settling in Lausanne.

Badreddin Wais with IOC President Bach (Source: Inside the games)

He drove a taxi during the day and earned a measly living. When IOC announced a team for the refugees to travel to the Rio Olympics, Wais realized that his dream had found the kindling required.

He started training again in 2016 and the fighter that he is has not looked back competing in every world championship since then.

During the 2018 World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria, he put on a spirited showing after just practicing on the route once before the event whereas his competitors being far more experienced. Everyone took notice of this short and lanky guy with "Syria" written on his chest.

Reporters surrounded him at the end of the day and asked him how he felt about his nation. A shadow of worry enveloped his face.

"I want to say to everyone in the world, for our young people who are growing up and learning or training for something, well they need peace to do that. We hope to stop the war one day soon, for all Syrians."

"I am here to say to people there is not just war in my country, there is also a sport, for example, we are hoping for peace in Syria and the rest of the world, too. Everyone in Syria was happy when the national football (league) came back, it was a relief," he says while replying to one of the reporters from the AFP (Agence France-Presse).

After such spirited showings across the world and making a name for his rides in such a short span of time, it was inevitable for the IOC to exclude him from the refugee contingent travelling to Tokyo.

With the contingent set to have 29 brave hearts from across the globe, we can expect some of them to make a name for themselves as not refugees but sportspeople who defied all odds to pursue their passion and excel.

Wais, now competing under the IOC flag would have a stage to express his extraordinary resilience to fight the odds and come up on top. As he pedals across the Musashino Forest and the foothills of Mt. Fuji, millions of tortured civilians across the globe would see a glimpse of a better future.

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