This is one of the more inspiring stories we’ve read in awhile. This teenage girl from Syria not only escaped conflict in her homeland, she and her sister saved a boatful of 20 other refugees by swimming it to Greece–and now she’s swum her way onto an Olympic team. Her name is Yusra Mardini, and at 19 years old, she has already survived more than any of us could ever imagine.
Mardini’s tale began when the boat from Syria that she and her family were on began sinking on the way to Europe. Packed with refugees fleeing the war in their home state, many of whom could not swim, Mardini, who was 17 at the time, and her sister Sarah did the unthinkable: they jumped into the water and pushed the boat to the Greek shoreline. Two other passengers ultimately joined them, and the four refugees swam for three and a half hours until the boat reached land.
After saving the lives of everyone on the sinking life raft, Yusra and Sarah made their way to Germany and began a new life there. In Berlin, a charity that assists refugees suggested the sisters join a sports club. The coach (pictured with Mardini below) was suitably impressed and told the sisters, who had been athletes in their home country, that they should set their eyes on the 2020 Olympics.
But in a stroke of well-deserved good fortune, Mardini wouldn’t have to wait that long—the Rio Olympic committee formed a team of stateless refugees, and Mardini became one of nine people on the swim team.
Mardini will compete in her first event, the 100 meter butterfly, this Saturday. Despite the turmoil in her country, she hopes to return to Syria one day when the war has ended.
In an interview, she told the UN: “I want everyone not to give up on their dreams and do what they feel in their hearts… Even if it’s impossible, even if they don’t have the right conditions, you never know what will happen, just keep trying.”