This Syrian Refugee Almost Drowned at Sea Fleeing War, Now She is a Swimming Champion
Four years ago, Yusra Mardini’s life almost came to an end when she was crossing the Aegean Sea in an attempt to flee her war-torn homeland. In 2015, she and her sister Sarah crossed the border to Turkey and then embarked on a dangerous journey to Greece. During the crossing, their boat started sinking; both girls jumped and started swimming until they had reached the shores of Greece.
When Mardini arrived in Greece she had nothing on her except for a pair of jeans and the T-shirt she was wearing. Even her shoes were gone. The two sisters then decided to gather their meager belongings and head over land to Germany. They spent the following few months evading local authorities which barred them from legal entry.
A year later, Mardini participated in the Rio Olympics under the refugee banner. Today, Mardini lives with her family in Berlin. She is now a goodwill ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
“In the beginning, I refused to be in a refugee team because I was afraid people would think I got the chance because of my story,” said Mardini in a statement according to Arab News.
Mardini did not think she was skilled enough to participate in international swimming competitions. The 21-year-old felt she needed more time; she needed to earn her spot. However, at the same time, she realized she had a unique opportunity to represent stateless individuals all over the world. Mardini seized the moment and never regretted it.
“Rio was amazing. It was really exciting to see the reaction of people to the team. Now I’m representing millions of displaced people around the world and it really makes me proud,” she continued.
Addressing the UN General Assembly, Mardini spoke of the war in Syria and how nearby bombings rattled the foundation of houses, shattering both windows and people alike. She spoke of those who drowned beside her, and how she was separated from her mother. “I felt so alone,” she said. “So lonely.”
Her trauma has made her sympathize with those in her shoes. Today, Mardini wants to do something about it. “The least we can do is talk about it, not just ignore it like everything else happening in the world,” Mardini said.
Four days ago in Gwangju, South Korea, Mardini finished 47th out of 52 swimmers in the 100-meter butterfly heats.
“I’m not very happy actually,” Mardini said. “I had some problems with my shoulder but I’m back in training. I still have the 100m freestyle and I’m looking forward to that.”
The plight of refugees is perhaps the utmost defining crisis of our time, and unfortunately, Mardini’s heart-shattering story is a fragment of a far more dreary picture. However, Yusra Mardini’s bravery and persistence should be a lantern that brings some light to the bleakness.
“My goal now is just to swim a new personal best,” she said. “And my next goal will be Tokyo 2020.”