From Syria to Rio: Refugee athlete wins hearts of millions

Yusra Mardini survived a horrific crossing of the Mediterranean after escaping from war-torn Syria has captured the hearts of millions as she competes at the Olympic Games.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Refugee Olympic Team swimmer, Yusra Mardini.

18-year-old Syrian athlete Yusra Mardini may not have won a medal at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games yet, but she has certainly won the hearts of millions around the world with her very special story.

The Olympic swimmer who experienced a traumatic escape from Damascus is among a team of 10 refugees competing at this year’s games.

Mardini, the first participant of the Olympic Refugee Team, won the preliminary heat of the women’s 100m butterfly, but finished 41st overall on Saturday.

“I’m really lucky to be here to swim with champions,” Mardini told The Telegraph.

“This feels so amazing.”

Despite living in Syria after the outbreak of civil war, the talented swimmer kept following her dreams while in Damascus as she trained professionally with the Syrian Olympic Committee despite heavy bombings on her city.

However, staying in Damascus became too dangerous and Mardini and her sister decided to flee the country.  

While crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Greece, the motor of the dinghy stopped working.

The only way to get the overcrowded boat carrying 20 refugees to shore, was to pull it.

Mardini, her sister and two strong swimmers jumped into the water and began pulling a rope attached to the dinghy.

“We were the only four who knew how to swim. I had one hand with the rope attached to the boat as I moved my two legs and one arm. It was three and half hours in cold water. Your body is almost like … done. I don’t know how to accurately describe it.”

But she accepts that she owes her life to her talent.

“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. It was quite hard to think that you are a swimmer and you might end up dying in the water."

She has now settled with her sister in Germany.  

Following her appearance at Rio, she became a social media icon and her journey from war-torn Damascus to Rio servied as an inspiration to millions around the world.

Fellow Syrian swimmer Rami Anis who is also competing for the refugee team, will on Tuesday show once more how hope is the most important motive behind the every success.


 Author: Gizem Taskin