Yusra Mardini. 2016 Olympian. AP Photo.
What does she do? Yusra Mardini is a Syrian swimmer currently living in Berlin, Germany. She was a member of the Refugee Olympic Athletes Team (ROT) that competed under the Olympic flag at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She competed the 100m freestyle and the 100m butterfly, winning one heat in the latter.
Who is she? Born and raised in Damascus, Mardini’s house was destroyed in the Syrian Civil War. She and her sister, Sarah, decided to flee Syria in August of 2015. They reached Lebanon and Turkey on foot, but had arranged to enter Greece via a boat from Turkey. This boat, which was meant to hold only six or seven people, transported 20 total migrants across the Aegean Sea.
One day into the journey, the boat’s motor stopped working, and the dinghy began to take on water. Only four of the twenty migrants were able to swim; Mardini, with the help of her sister and two additional passengers, got into the water and pushed the boat for over three hours until it reached Lesbos. From there, Yusra and Sarah traveled through Europe to Germany, where they eventually settled in Berlin. Here, she began to train with her coach, Sven Spannenkrebs, in hopes of qualifying for the Olympics.
Why watch? At just 19 years old, Yusra is looking forward to a long career in swimming. However, in the spring of 2017, she was appointed a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, signaling a potential departure into the world of diplomacy and public service. She plans to swim at the next Summer Olympics, and we cannot wait to see the humanitarian efforts she spearheads in the coming years.