Yusra Mardini, a talented and altruistic Syrian girl, is the protagonist of this extraordinary story.
Mardini competed in the women’s 100-metre butterfly and freestyle race at 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
Mardini was a talented swimmer in her hometown, Damascus, and, because of the war, she was professionally backed by the Syrian Olympic Committee. “Sometimes we couldn’t train because of the war,” she said. “And sometimes you would be swimming in pools where the roofs were [blown open] in three or four places.”
Damascus became increasingly unstable and Mardini and her sister Sarah were forced to leave Syria, travelling through Lebanon and Turkey, trying to reach Greece.
Thirty minutes after setting off from Turkey, the motor on their boat began to fail. Most of those on board could not swim, so Mardini and her sister (with the help of two strong swimmers) jumped into the Aegean Sea and swam for three hours in open water, pushing their boat to land.
“We were the only four who knew how to swim,” she said about the experience. “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.”
Past Lesbos, Mardini and Sarah travelled through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and Austria until they got to their final destination, Germany.
Mardini now lives in Berlin, where she is a member of Wasserfreunde Spandau 04 swimming club. Coach Sven Spannekrebs is starting to considering her suitable for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Mardini trains for two or three hours every morning, attends school and then continues to train in the evening.
She said at a press conference: “I want everyone to think refugees are normal people who had their homelands and lost them not because they wanted to run away and be refugees but because they have dreams in their lives and they had to go.”