The 2021 Tokyo Olympics theme, the “Worlds We Share” could not be more fitting for this year’s athletes. After surviving a global pandemic, each athlete brings forth their stories, strength, and resilience. Yusra Mardini’s story highlights each of these components, and encompasses this year’s theme.
Since she was a child, Yusra’s father taught both Yusra and her sister how to swim, with the hope that they would become the “the best swimmers on earth.” At the time, swimming had simply been a sport; however in 2015, the war in Syria would change her life forever. The family decided that Yusra and her sister, Sarah would escape to Greece. Only 15 minutes after leaving Turkey, the boat’s engine seized. Yusra and her sister, Sarah, climbed overboard and pulled the boat towards Greece for three hours on the open sea.
Yusra and her sister spent over six months in a refugee camp before joining a swimming club in Germany. This experience landed Yusra a spot in the Refugee Olympics Athletes Team in Rio De Janeiro in 2016. At that time the team consisted of only 10 athletes, and they received a standing ovation from the crowd. Yusra competed in the Women’s 100m Butterfly Heat, and she came in first place.
In 2017, Yusra became the youngest Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR. Her work focused on advocating and providing aid to children in refugee camps. In the Tokyo Olympics, Yusra had the honor of carrying the flag for the Refugee Olympic Athletes Team, which has grown to 29 athletes. Yusra competed in the 100m butterfly and placed third. Although she did not qualify to semi-finals, Yusra is sending a message to the world that refugees continue fighting for their dreams, and don’t give up even after everything they have gone through.
Yusra pursuing swimming as her Olympic sport even after what she went through is another example of how resilient refugees are. They reclaim what tried to kill them, and convert it into their biggest strength. Yusra has been an inspiration to all of us, and we cannot wait to see what obstacles she conquers next.