Visit Lauderdale Taps Local Paralympic Hopeful, Abbas Karimi as New Ambassador to Represent Greater Fort Lauderdale

Extraordinarily talented swimmer was born in Afghanistan without arms and is the first refugee to win a World Medal

Photo Credit Abbas Karimi

Visit Lauderdale, the destination marketing organization for Greater Fort Lauderdale, announced a new partnership with Paralympic hopeful, Abbas Karimi. Born without arms in war-torn Afghanistan, Karimi is a model of resilience and profound physical and mental strength. Karimi will serve as Visit Lauderdale’s newest ambassador.

As a young child, he found solace in the water. He learned to swim in the rivers of Kabul, and as his innate talent grew, he progressed to swimming in pools. Today, Karimi is a Greater Fort Lauderdale resident who is working towards joining Team USA and competing in the Paris Paralympics in August.

Photo Credit Abbas Karimi

“God took my arms, but he gave me skill and strength in my legs and feet. He gave me a talent, a passion, and perseverance,” Karimi said. “I am honored to align myself with Visit Lauderdale which welcomes visitors of all abilities and represent the destination which I now proudly call home.”

Despite not having arms, he remained steadfast in his self-reliance and learned how to adapt by using his feet for everyday tasks. At age 16, Karimi fled Afghanistan on foot, walking through Iran and was subsequently smuggled into Turkey where he lived for four years.

In a fortuitous chain of events, the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) relocated Karimi from a Turkish refugee camp as word of his extraordinary swimming capabilities became known. He was brought to Portland, Oregon where he began intensive training for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games with intentions of competing in the 50-meter butterfly, 50-meter backstroke and both the 50- and 100-meter freestyle.

Unfortunately, in 2020 the pandemic forced the pools in Oregon to close. His fortune changed once again when his coach told him about Marty Hendrick and the Swim Fort Lauderdale Masters Swim Team, a tightly knit swim group with over 200 members. He was soon invited to relocate to Greater Fort Lauderdale and has been training at the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Center ever since.

Photo Credit Abbas Karimi

When Visit Lauderdale, a longtime advocate of accessibility tourism, learned of Karimi’s story, leaders knew they had to meet him.

“We are simply awe-struck by Abbas. His athletic talent and determination are unrivaled, and he is an inspiration to everyone under the sun,” said Stacy Ritter, president and CEO of Visit Lauderdale. “We are privileged to share his incredible story with the world, support his journey as he trains to represent Team USA in the upcoming Paralympics, and show off the one-of-a-kind experiences that Greater Fort Lauderdale has to offer.”

As part of his role as an accessibility ambassador, Visit Lauderdale will shadow Karimi when he visits his favorite places throughout Greater Fort Lauderdale, highlighting those locations’ accessibility. His inspirational journey will be told through social media campaigns, amplified through special appearances and incorporated into publicity campaigns, offering a glimpse into his rigorous training practices and everyday routines when he’s not in the pool.

Photo Credit Abbas Karimi

Karimi arrived in the United States after competing four times in the Para Swimming World Series and twice in world championships. He’s earned six international medals and won 25 medals from national events and in 2023. He made Team USA for the World Para Swimming Championships in Portugal.

To qualify for the Paris Paralympics, he maintains a strict training regimen constantly stretches to maintain his flexibility. He swims six days a week (2.5 miles per practice), sometimes completing two practices a day. He also enjoys running and incorporates dry land workouts to strengthen his butterfly stroke.

For additional information on Abbas Karimi and his swimming career, visit To learn about Visit Lauderdale’s accessibility initiatives, visit