Born without arms, Afghan refugee swimmer trains in Fort Lauderdale for Tokyo Paralympics in 2021

(WSVN) - For some, this Thanksgiving will be like no other with the pandemic bringing big celebrations to a holiday halt. Tonight, we want to give you a moment to remember all we do have through the eyes of a young athlete who has found a new home in South Florida. 7’s Karen Hensel has our special assignment report: Winning Spirit.

Lap after lap after lap, under the early morning South Florida sun, swimmers glide through the lanes at the Carter Aquatic Complex in Fort Lauderdale.

Their arms propelling their bodies forward, except for one swimmer, though he’s still making waves.

Abbas Karimi, training for Paralympics: “My father used to say, ‘God took your arms from you, but instead, he give you the talent and skill in your legs and your feet.'”

Meet Abbas Karimi, an elite swimmer who was born without arms.

Abbas Karimi: “Everything was very challenging to do with my feet and learn everything.”

Abbas grew up in war-torn Afghanistan.

Now, he’s training here in South Florida for the 2021 Paralympic games in Japan.

The 23-year-old’s journey to get here has been filled with pain and perseverance.

Abbas Karimi: “They was always calling me armless, ‘Oh, look at this guy, doesn’t have arms’ and trying to make fun of me.”

Bullied as a boy, he discovered something that soothed him — a love of the water.

Abbas Karimi: “When I learned swimming, I was not believing in myself almost a year, like, ‘Wow, I learned swimming without arms.'”

As a teenager, he made the difficult decision to leave home.

Abbas Karimi: “It’s tough to leave your family, your father, your mother at the very young age of 16, but I wanted to get out of that world.”

He first went to Iran before his brother helped smuggle him across the border into neighboring Turkey.

It was a dangerous gamble.

Abbas Karimi: “If the police capture you on the border, they can do anything to you. They can kill you.”

Abbas lived in Turkey as a refugee.

Then, he came to the United States under the United Nations’ refugee program.

After a few years living and training in Portland, this summer, Abbas moved to South Florida.

He’s now part of the Swim Fort Lauderdale program.

Abbas Karimi: “It feels right to be here because I found the right coach.”

Working to help Abbas achieve his goal is Fort Lauderdale swim coach Marty Hendrick.

Marty Hendrick, coach: “Our arms in swimming helps us turn our body into a position to get air. He doesn’t have that. To get on the podium, he knows he’s got to really work.”

And work he does. In the pool six days a week, sometimes training twice a day.

Abbas Karimi: “My family is so happy for me. I lost my father last year. The last time that my father talked to me, he said that you put my name in the top of the world. He said that you made me very proud.”

Coach Marty is also very proud of Abbas, who he’s not simply guiding in the pool, but in life.

Abbas Karimi: “I’m living with him. I call him dad at home.”

Marty Hendrick: “I feel completely blessed that I have this kid at home.”

Abbas and Coach Marty will travel next summer to Tokyo for the 2021 Paralympic Games, where the swimmer is set to compete in several events. We will, of course, update you on their journey.

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