One year ago, Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini was swimming for her life as she fled Damascus, Syria with her older sister. Today, she is a member of the Olympic refugee team competing in Rio.
The 18-year-old is one of ten athletes competing for the Refugee Olympic Athletes in three sports.
Below, read about Mardini’s tenacious and heroic journey, via Alexander Hassenstein of Getty.
Before that, Mardini and her sister have been swimmers for many years. They were known as shining stars at their swimming club in Syria, until the war disrupted their training.
Their parents tried their hardest to keep them away from the intense war zones — they moved multiple times to avoid the conflict, but the war shortly became too dangerous. They decided to pick up and move all together after their house was destroyed.
Mardini and her sister left Damascus, Syria in early August. They boarded an inflatable boat in Turkey that was headed for the Greek island of Lesbos, alongside 20 other refugees.
Not too long into their journey, the motor on the boat broke down. Mardini and her sister were the only two swimmers on the boat, so they jumped into the water to swim the boat to shore.
They swam while helping the boat stay above water for three and a half hours, saving everyone on the boat.
After swimming all of the passengers to safety, the sisters continued their journey to make it to Germany.
They then travelled through five more countries, on land.
They faced many problems — they were arrested at borders, lost money, and had many items stolen from them. Despite all of these problems, the sisters remained strong. They were not going to give up.
After 35 days of fleeing, the sisters finally made it to Germany.
Now, they are safe with their parents in Berlin.
Shortly after their arrival in Berlin, they were introduced to a swimming coach at a local swimming club.
Mardini’s goal was originally to make it to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, but her coach said she had progressed so well that there was a good chance that she could qualify for the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) refugee team for the 2016 Olympics in August.
Since she lost everything and faced a treacherous journey, she was given a IOC Olympic Solidarity scholarship — a scholarship to help athletes qualify for the Olympics.
Her daily schedule leading up to the Olympics involved school and intensive training.
Mardini hopes to encourage refugees and make them proud of her.
In the meantime, she seems to be having the time of her life in Rio.