In 2001, Popole Misenga’s mother was murdered during Democratic Republic of Congo’s civil war.
He was nine at the time. After walking alone for a week, he was finally rescued and brought to Kinshasa where he was first introduced to judo.
Later this month, Misenga will represent the Refugee Olympic Team for a second time after making his debut in 2016 in Brazil, where he has been living since 2013.
Misenga’s life changed in 2013 when he was in Brazil for the world judo championship.
He fled the DRC team camp without money, passport or food. He said it was his only chance and opportunity to escape after he was mistreated by his coaches and the abuse he experienced for not winning medals.
Surviving the civil war in DRC and living a challenging life in Brazil, Misenga says he never forgot his dreams and just wants to show the world that anything is possible.
Al Jazeera spoke to the judoka about life in Brazil, how judo has helped him physically and mentally and how he stands so close to seeing his dream come true.
It was not easy. I left my country in the middle of the war and when I got here I was living inside another war. These wars were happening all the time with a lot of confusion and gunshots everywhere. Innocent people were also being killed. People would barge into my house to shelter from stray bullets. Even then, I decided to stay.
I ran from a system of heavy abuse to stay in a country all alone. I spent some time sleeping on the streets of Rio, skipping meals till I found shelter in the north of the city where there was a small Congolese community.
I lived there for a few years, surviving on informal jobs.
Now, I want to have a chance to leave Brazil one day and give my children the opportunity to study abroad and give them a good path in life and a better future.
The biggest challenge was the coronavirus pandemic. I took a lot of care, keeping my hands clean all the time, washing them with alcohol gel, wearing masks and during lockdowns when I could not train with my colleagues, I trained alone at home. It is something happening not only with me but everyone across the world.
For me, I just want to reach my dream of competing and winning a medal. This is where my mind is: Win a medal for our team.