Last year, we read about an incredible Syrian refugee names Yusra Mardini who did her part to save not only her own life, but the lives of 19 other refugees fleeing Syria for Greece and Turkey. This very same teenage girl will be competing for her place in history as she swims in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Yusra earned her place swimming on the very first Olympic team made up entirely of refugees. Yusra was featured in several articles last year when she and a fellow refugee were forced to jump into the Mediterranean Sea to pull their boat to safety. They, along with 19 other people, were attempting to cross the sea to escape the war in Syria and they small boat started to take on water as they were traveling. The two swimmers took matters into their own hands by jumping out of the boat and pulling it to safety for three hours until they reached the mainland.
“When I was in the water there was fear. You don’t know whether you are going to live or die,” said Mardini, who was just 17-years-old at the time of the incident. “I hope to get a medal in the Olympics, and that my home town is in peace again,” she said.
Mardini will be competing in the 100-meter freestyle. She stands proudly amongst 10 other refugee athletes comprising the first ever refugee team at the Olympics.
“When I was swimming for my life, I never would have believed I would be where I am now,” she said in an interview with the International Organization for Migration, or IOM.
Mardini and her sister now live in Germany but the incident involving their refugee boat occurred as they traveled out of Damascus, Syria. The boat they were traveling in across the sea was only designed to hold about 6-8 people and yet it was carrying 22, including the two of them.
“Before you go on the boat, people tell you that you are going to die,” Sara, Yusra’s sister, told the IOM.
“So the first thing you think about when you get on that boat is death. You don’t think of anything else.”
There have been hundreds of deaths of people attempting to cross the Mediterranean, struggling to escpae from the war and political unrest in the Middle East and other countries.
Sara Mardini, who is also a competitive swimmer, had already discussed the potential dangers of their journey. She told Yusra that if their boat was to capsize during the trip across the sea, that they needed to focus on saving themselves, as it would do more harm than good to try and rescue everyone else.
But when it hit the point that their boat began to struggle, lose air and the engine died, they both realized that they couldn’t just leave everyone behind and save themselves. “We needed to have less weight on the boat and nobody else besides us could swim ... When I first got into the water my whole body was shaking like it does just before competition,” Sara said.
“At that very moment I felt that life was bigger than me alone. All the people on that boat were part of me.”
“I thought it was my duty to jump in the water ... if I (had left) them I would feel bad with myself for the rest of my life.”
Sara told the IOM about a friend of her father who was traveling with them, who had to cut off the bottom of Sara’s pants in the water as she was swimming because they were pulling her down. She and Yusra swam for over two hours, struggling to keep their eyes open and keep moving.
“It was getting dark and cold, the wind was blowing and I was freezing. I could not open my eyes any more, they were full of salt water,” she said.
Thankfully, they were able to reach one of the Greek islands that night. Had they not, they surely would not have survived.
Yusra hopes that their story can be an inspiration to other refugees like them.
“Now we are training really hard,” Yusra said. “I think about making my parents proud and everyone who supported me.”
At just 18 years old, she has three incredible dreams: “I hope that they will open the borders for refugees, and I hope to get a medal in the Olympics, and that my home town is in peace again.”