Three years ago Amir Rezanejad walked for 16 days and 16 nights through the mountains which border Iran and Turkey, desperately hoping to evade authorities as he fled the country of his birth in pursuit of a safer life.

It was the toughest decision of his life, leaving behind family and friends. But the then University student knew he had no choice. Under cover of the night, he and two other Iranians set out on a journey that could easily cost them their lives.

On Wednesday this week Amir Rezanejad sat in the starting gates at the top of the Kolna canoe slalom course in Krakow, contemplating a much simpler journey, but one he had been dreaming about ever since he cast a farewell glimpse of his country of birth.

Just weeks earlier he had received approval to race as a refugee athlete, and the ICF Junior and U23 slalom world championships was his official return to international competition.  

“Today was very emotional for me,” Amir said after his second run in the men’s U23 C1. Unfortunately his time was not good enough to progress to the semi-finals, but that seemed a minor issue.

“After three years I thought that everything was gone for me and I would not be able to compete in a competition again. But now I can start again.

“When I was told three months ago I could be in a competition again it was wonderful. I couldn’t sleep for two days and two nights, it was awesome for me.”

Rezanejad started competing for Iran in 2015, and even represented his country at the 2017 ICF World Championships. But he knew it could never last.

“I realised I could not live in my country because of my life. So I decided I had to leave my country to save my life,” he said.

“Iran has not a good situation. Everything in Iran is catastrophic, it would take me one week to explain all our problems. Everyone saw what happened in Iran last year, people all around the world could see that. But I’m sure everything is going to be okay.

“I walked through the mountains for 16 days, from the border of Iran to Turkey, with two or three people. I lived in Turkey for one year, living illegally, before finding a safe way to get to Europe.

“But I didn’t expect that I would arrive in Germany, I was just looking for a safe country.”

You can hear Amir’s story on our latest Path to Paris podcast.


Canoe Slalom