Armless Afghan teen dreams of swimming in the Olympics

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Abbas Karimi was born with no arms but the 14-year-old Afghan has ambitions to earn a gold medal for his country in the world Paralympic games.

If he gets the support he needs the teenager will be the first Afghan to represent his county as a swimmer in the games next due to take place in Brazil in 2014.


Afghanistan was late to discover sport for the disabled. The first Afghan athletes to go to the Paralympics, a pair of cyclists, went to Atlanta in 1996.

“I urge people to support me so I can participate in world Paralympics games. I would like to achieve a medal for my country. I also want to be a symbol for those who are disabled like me . My advice is that they should not be depressed about their disability and they should not suffer for being disabled,” said Karimi during a break from a training session in the pool, using his chin for poolside support.

Decades of conflict poverty and neglect prevent a large number of disabled Afghans from pursuing sport. They are often unemployed, and face victimization and discrimination in a society where disability is perceived as a weakness.

Karim’s trainer and Water Polo Federation head Qasim Hamidi has no doubts about the teenager’s talent.

“I urge the government to support Abbas. I challenge that if Abbas gets full support he will be a medal winner for Afghanistan in the 2014 Paralympics 2014 in Brazil,” said Hamidi.

Karimi has mastered many skills to overcome the everyday problems of life without arms in Afghanistan. He uses his feet to eat and drink, use his mobile phone, and can even drive a car.

“At first I was suffering a lot from being armless but when I started swimming and other activities I found myself capable to do everything well. I am now hopeful in my life, by using my feet I do all my work so I don’t have to really worry about anything,” the teenager added.

Karimi is also learning English at the Star Educational Society in Kabul.

His outlook on life, which he writes on a white board in class using his foot is: ‘If you want to do something you can do it.’ He has clearly won the admiration of his classmates.

“Abbas is the talented boy in our class. I can say that he is the most intelligent student of this center. Despite being armless almighty God has given him other abilities and we can see that he is using his abilities very well and does everything,” said one of them, Safiullah Jan.

Abbas, whose father sells cars in Kabul, comes from a large family. He has five brothers and five sisters but he is the only one to be born with a disability.

As a child he says he was supported by his parents but as he has become more confident in his own abilities and continues to explore more of life with his feet, his philosophy - if you want something you can get it - appears to be paying dividends.

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