Everything about Yusra Mardini is extraordinarily exceptional. The 18-year-old swimmer will be competing on the first Refugee Olympic Athletes team at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Her incredible swimming skills earned her a place to compete in the 100m freestyle and 100m butterfly swimming games. After fleeing war-torn Syria to Berlin, Germany, she swam and pushed a small boat of Syrian refugees in the deep waters of the Aegean Sea for over three hours to the Greek Island of Lesbos.
“I had one hand with the rope attached to the boat as I moved my two legs and one arm. It was three and half hours in cold water. Your body is almost like … done. I don’t know if I can describe that,” she said to the International Olympic Committee.
Mardini hopes to inspire other Syrian refugees through competing at the Olympics. In an interview with the Associated Press, she said, “It’s quite hard to leave your homeland. I want refugees to be proud of me. I just want to encourage them.”
The BBC reported that Mardini is the middle of three daughters and she lived at home with her parents, attended a gymnastics club and loved swimming. But when the Syria’s civil war started, her house came under fire, forcing the family to move.
The roof of the swimming pool where she trained in the Syrian capital of Damascus was ripped open by bombs. She could see the water, but no longer be in it. “I could not take it any more,” Mardini said.
After settling in Germany, Mardini was able to resume her swimming career. The New York Times reported that she has been practicing since October at the training center for Wasserfreunde Spandau 04, one of the oldest swimming clubs in the city of Berlin.
Her training routine started at 7 A.M. and ended at 9:30-10 P.M., she told Teen Vogue in an interview.
“When I was a little kid, I was just put into the water,” said Mardini, who grew up in the Daraya suburb of Damascus. Her father, a swimming coach, began training her when she was 3. Mardini went on to compete for the Syrian national team in 2012 and received support from the Syrian Olympic Committee.
Mardini will be competing on Saturday, Aug. 6 for the Women’s 100m butterfly and on Wednesday, Aug. 10 for the Women’s 100m freestyle.