This past Friday– at the 2016 Olympics Opening Ceremony in Rio– all of the participating nations paraded into the arena, but alongside them was a new kind of team, one the Olympics has never seen before: The first-ever refugee team, made up of 10 athletes from around the world.
One of these athletes was Yusra Mardini, the 18 year old swimmer who has stolen hearts around the world with her amazing spirit, drive, and ability. But not only is she an incredible swimmer and a lovable person, Yusra Mardini is also a hero.
In an interview with The Independent, Mardini describes her unbelievable story, of the night swimming literally saved her life and 19 others. While fleeing her war-torn home in Damascus, Mardini found herself stuck in the Aegean sea. The motor on their dinghy, designed for 6 people, had failed, and they were hours from shore. The boat began to sink and Mardini, her sister, and two strangers were the only people on the boat who knew how to swim. She knew if she didn’t do anything that the rest of the refugees would drown in the ocean.
But Mardini wasn’t going to let that happen.
The young girl– only a teenager– jumped into the ocean, along with the three others, and together they pushed and pulled the boat towards shore. They swam for three hours with the boat and their fellow Syrians in tow.
Mardini describes feeling her body fail her and thinking that she was going to die that night. “It’s quite hard just to think you are a swimmer, and in the end you’re going to end up dying in the water, which you know the best.” Can you imagine? Devoting your life to the water only to find you’re going to die in it? But she didn’t let that fear show. She describes smiling and making jokes when she could so that the 6 year old boys on the boat wouldn’t see her exhaustion, so they could feel safe.
All 20 refugees survived the night, arriving in Greece thanks to these four heroes. But Mardini says that her story “is a positive memory.” She says, “I remember that, without swimming, I would never be alive… because of the story of this boat.”
Swimming became more than just a passion to her. And this past weekend, during the opening events of the Rio Olympics, her hard work and perseverance paid off; Mardini won the opening heat of the women’s 100 meter butterfly.
“Everything is about trying to get a new and better life,” she says of the refugee team, “and by entering the stadium, we are encouraging everyone to pursue their dreams.”
Share her inspiring heroism today!