Commonwealth Games: It's a long way from Poland to Glasgow – but it's worth it for Koczarian
From Poland to Glasgow, the journey that has taken Norik Koczarian to the Commonwealth Games as part of Team Northern Ireland has been an unusual one and the wrestler has every intention of making the most of the opportunity.
Koczarian moved to Belfast from his home city of Rzeszow eight years ago when endeavouring to learn English and immediately felt at home in his new surroundings.
"I moved to the country first of all to become more independent but also I knew that the best way to learn the language was to go somewhere that I would have to speak it and to surround myself with it," said the 28-year-old.
"From the very beginning everyone was very welcoming and friendly and the place felt like home right away.
"It's a brilliant experience to be representing Northern Ireland and I just can't wait for the competition to start."
Koczarian hails from a sporting family and it was through this association that he came to become a wrestler.
He recalled: "I was always into sport but it was lots of different things when I was younger.
"My father was the Olympic coach for the Polish diving team and that's kind of how I got into wrestling.
"One of his friends was a wrestling coach and when we were in the gym together he approached me and said that I should give it a try.
"I was very negative about it at first but that changed as soon as I got started."
These inauspicious beginnings came in 1999 and, after showing a natural aptitude for the sport, Koczarian made steady progress over the years culminating in a 5th place finish at the Polish Championships as an 18-year-old junior in 2004.
However, after relocating to Northern Ireland two years later his sporting ambitions were put on hold until another chance encounter brought him back to the mat.
"When I first moved over I spent three years not really knowing who to speak to about wrestling and asking the wrong people," he explained.
"Then when I was working in a job I was talking to a customer who was able to give me a coach's contact number. From that I was able to get back into it."
Under John O'Rawe, Koczarian flourished, going on to take bronze at the Northern Irish Open just a month later.