Refugee's inspiring journey culminates with Olympic spot in judo

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Refugee Olympic Team's Sanda Aldass (white) fights Serbia's Marica Perisic. (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)
Refugee Olympic Team's Sanda Aldass (white) fights Serbia's Marica Perisic. (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Sanda Aldass fled her war-torn home of Damascus, Syria as a refugee to the Netherlands six years ago, leaving her husband and son behind.

On Monday, the 31-year-old became an Olympian.

Aldass, a judoka representing the Refugee Olympic Team, debuted at the Games in a losing effort against Serbian prodigy Marica Perisic. It’s been a long journey getting to this point.

Upon arriving in the Netherlands, she persevered through six months in a refugee camp without her family, and kept her sanity by staying active as a Judo lover since she was seven years old.

Aldass eventually reunited with her son and husband, who’s also her judo coach. Their family has now settled in Almere, Netherlands, and grown by two, but coming to a new country presented a whole new set of challenges.

For one, it took a while to receive support from the judo community. It wasn’t until 2019, when Aldass joined the International Judo Federation Support Program, that she could continue working towards her Olympic dream. Even if representing Syria may not be possible.

“It was so difficult to start everything all over again,” she said. “But sport gave us a big motivation, a big goal to follow.”

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Not only was being selected as one of six judoka to represent the Refugee Olympic Team a dream come true, it also represented their hard work to strive towards a goal, and Aldass says it makes a significant impact on her life beyond the mat.

“People (in the Netherlands) have so much respect for refugees,” she said. “But to have a refugee who would maybe participate in the Olympic Games, then everyone will look at you differently, people will salute you, be happy to know you.”

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