This Syrian Refugee Olympian Has A Message Of Unity and Hope

You truly are the master of your destiny.


(Boris Ryaposov /

Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini has captured hearts left right and center at the Rio Olympic Games - and not just because she won the first heat of the women’s 100m butterfly competition. The 18-year-old is part of the 10-member Refugee Olympic Team, set up by the International Olympic Committee so athletes forced to leave their home countries can still compete at the Games.

Mardini was already on track for the Olympics when she was living in war-torn Damascus, where she often found herself training in pools in destroyed buildings. “Sometimes we couldn’t train because of the war,” she said. “And sometimes you would be swimming in pools where the roofs were [blown open] in three or four places.”

Mardini and her sister Sarah eventually left Syria in August 2015, crossing through Lebanon and Turkey before trying to reach Greece. Just minutes after leaving the Turkish coast the motor of their overburdened boat failed and Mardini, her sister, and two other strong swimmers jumped into the sea and pushed the rubber boat carrying another 16 people through open water for three hours, eventually reaching the Greek island of Lesbos.

Throughout the experience Mardini kept a positive attitude, even smiling and making funny faces for the small children on board, so they would not be scared. “I remember that without swimming I would never be alive maybe because of the story of this boat. It’s a positive memory for me."

Mardini and her sister eventually reached Berlin, Germany in September 2015, where she is now enrolled in school and found a new trainer. Every morning before classes, the powerhouse teen trains for two to three hours and returns to the water when she is done with school.

“We are really happy together,” she says of the refugee team. “The team has great friendship… we don’t know the same language, we’re not from the same countries, but the Olympic flag united us all together, and we are representing 60 million [refugees] from around the world.”

“I want everyone to think refugees are normal people who had their homelands and lost them not because they wanted to run away and be refugees, but because they have dreams in their lives and they had to go,” she said at a press conference announcing her place on the team. “Everything is about trying to get a new and better life and by entering the stadium we are encouraging everyone to pursue their dreams.”

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