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As a teen, she swam for 3 hours in the sea to escape war in Syria. Now, she's swimming at the Olympics.

“I was a swimmer since I was three years old, it’s something I’ve been working on my whole life." In her home country, she never had the opportunity to hone her skill.

As a teen, she swam for 3 hours in the sea to escape war in Syria. Now, she's swimming at the Olympics.
Image Source: Getty Images/Alexander Hassenstein / Staff

Yusra Mardini is a story of determination and inspiration like no other. Mardini has made a name for herself as a swimmer representing refugees from all over the world and made her debut at the 2016 Rio games with the IOC Refugee Olympic Team. But her journey to the world stage has been an arduous one and a long way from home. Mardini is a Syrian refugee who made it out of the hostile environment under dangerous circumstances and is now a source of hope for refugees everywhere. She is back again at the Tokyo Olympics, aiming for gold.


Swimming has a new meaning now in Mardini's life. But before taking it up competitively, her life depended on her ability to swim. Mardini and her sister left Syria in 2015 and started their perilous journey to safety. They first took a plane from Syria to Lebanon, from there the sisters went to Turkey. In Turkey, they boarded a boat to Greece. The boats that carry refugees are usually overcrowded with more people than they can carry. The same happened with the boat that was to carry the Mardini sisters. The boat ride was to be no longer than 45 minutes. But it was already broken when there were 20 people in it instead of the six that it could carry.

Image Source: RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 02: Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini of the Refugee Olympic Team attends a press conference on August 2, 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)

Twenty minutes into the journey, Mardini, her sister, a friend of their father's, and another person jumped into the water and started to push the boat towards their destination. They swam for three hours in the rough waters and made it ashore. “The whole way, you can just hear all of our prayers in one voice,” Mardini said in an interview. But their journey was not finished just yet. They still had to make their way to Germany and Mardini continued the journey on foot, in buses, and even help from smugglers. Less than a year after this, she was going to the 2016 Olympics in Rio.


“I was a swimmer since I was three years old, it’s something I’ve been working on my whole life," Mardinid stated. "It didn’t just come to me when I came to Germany. It’s just that in Syria, I didn’t have the opportunity. I didn’t have the support of the federation.” Mardini still lags behind the best swimmers in the world by more than ten seconds. But as a participant in the Refugee Olympic Team (ROC), DW reported that she does not have to meet Olympic standards. She made headlines at her first Olympic appearance because of her touching story. She was nominated to join the international refugee team for the second time.


The 23-year-old now has a fanbase on Instagram with over 289k followers where she shares updates about her life. In a recent post, she wrote: I wanna show my appreciation to all of you and say thank you for supporting me, the messages I got/am still getting are so heartwarming and give me so much power. I am so proud of the fact that I am representing 80 million refugees around the world knowing I am sending a message of hope to all of them doing what I love, also showing the world that refugees won’t give up easily and will keep on dreaming even after going through tough journeys.


She appeared in the new Olympics ad with a message of hope: "We don't share a nation or a language. Each of us has a different story. But there is something we all have in common: We chose to keep our dreams alive." We will be seeing more of Mardini who is now an ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and was once received by the Pope. A book on her life has already been published and a Netflix film is currently being made about her.


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