Yusra Mardini: Swimming for Her Life
For the first time in Olympic history, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has set up a new team composed of refugees, deserving athletes who escaped their respective countries for lack of support due to political turmoil.
Yusra Mardini is one of them. Yusra was only 17 years old when she, together with her sister, fled Syria in August 2015 after their home was destroyed by a civil war that erupted in their country. She recounts how they traveled by land through Lebanon and Turkey then boarded an inflatable boat with 18 other refugees only to have to push that boat for about 4 hours through the Aegean Sea to the Greek island of Lesbos when the boat’s motor gave way. After one month on the road, they finally reached Germany where they sought permanent refuge. On their exodus, Yusra has this to say, “It would be a real shame if I drowned in the sea.” This is because Yusra was a competitive swimmer in Syria. And, true enough, not even a year from her escape, she is already preparing for her Olympic debut, being one of the ten certified members of the team of Refugee Olympic Athletes (ROA).
The IOC actually has lofty goals for this team. Acknowledging that refugees have gone through so much loss in their lives, being separated from their country and stripped of their nationality, the IOC wants to be able to restore even just a single dimension of their humanity, which happens to be sports. Through Team ROA, the IOC also wants to heighten the global public perception of referees thus paving the way for a more inclusive future. The IOC also wants Team ROA to symbolize hope for other refugees.
Yusra echoes this hope in her words. She hopes that the war in her country will stop and longs to go back someday to share her learning’s from her pursuit of the Olympic gold. In the meantime, she keeps herself busy by training for the competition. Sven Spannekrebs, Yusra’s coach, commends her mental conditioning and emphasizes the importance of mental preparedness in the Olympics – “to understand what you want to do and what you want to achieve.” Yusra responds that after breaking free, anything is now possible for her. She has a goal, a plan, and knows the value of hard work. She shares her insight on athletics saying it goes beyond race or religion. She adds “I want to inspire people to do what they believe in their hearts, to follow their dreams.” Yusra herself has been dreaming to compete in the Olympics since she was 5 years old. And just as she advocates, she did follow her dreams – from Syria in 2015 to Rio in 2016. “This shows that even if we had a tough journey, we can still achieve something.” She adds, “Even if it seems impossible, even if you don’t have the right conditions, just keep trying. You never know what will happen unless you try. Maybe you’ll get a chance like I did. Or maybe you’ll make your own chance.” Only someone who has experienced a great degree of adversity can reach this level of profundity. And even for this alone, she deserves more than an Olympic gold.
I tell you this: whenever you saw a brother or sister hungry or cold, whatever you did to the least of these, so you did to Me. (The Judgment of the Nations, Matthew 25:40)
May the Olympics unify the world.
What does the Olympics mean for you? Have you embodied the Olympic spirit?
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