When the Refugee Olympic team participated in the Olympics Games in Rio in 2016 for the first time, it sent a message of hope and inclusion to millions of refugees who inspire the world with the strength of their human spirit. How Yusra Mardini escaped war-torn Syria to reach the Olympics in Rio and then Tokyo is a story full of strength and resilience.
Born in Syria, Yusra was raised in a disciplined Muslim family in Darayya. Her father was a swimming coach and she started learning swimming on weekends. But fascinated by flying planes, she always wanted to be a pilot.
She was in 7th standard when the civil unrest began in Syria in 2011 and never came to an end leading to a mass exodus of refugees. Yusra’s family also fled the town and this put a stop to her swimming sessions.
In 2015, Yusra along with her elder sister escaped from Syria and completed an arduous journey to Germany. They flew to Turkey from where they boarded a boat to Greece.
The boat journey that was supposed to be around 45 minutes lasted for over 3 hours as their boat broke mid-water. Yusra along with her sister and others were found pushing the broken boat ashore.
A 17-year-old swimming across the sea with the load of 17 more passengers on her shoulder. Yusra became a symbol of hope and strength.
She reached Germany part on foot, in buses and even with the help of smugglers.
And one year later, there she was in Rio competing as part of the first-ever IOC Refugee Olympic Team in 2016. “Sport was our way out. It was kind of what gave us hope to build our new lives”.
While she could not secure a spot in the semi-finals, she went on to become a UNHCR goodwill ambassador. Today, she continues to work for the welfare of refugees across the world.
“I want to do lots of things but, for me, swimming has been number one and being a part of the Olympic games is my biggest dream. My dream is for the world to be at peace and there will be no more refugees anymore. That those wars will end and that we are all equal in the world and live peacefully and in harmony. I know it’s hard but this is my dream”.
(adapted from an article by Meenu Katariya)