How tough is your journey? A year ago, 17 year old Yusra Mardini was stuck in a broken down dinghy with 20 other Syrian refugees between Turkey and Greece.
Facing death like so many who had failed to make the trip, she and her sister jumped in the water and swam the boat all the way to land, saving everyone on board (almost all who couldn’t swim).
The story could end there but – incredibly – today Yusra will be representing no country, with no flag and no National Anthem, when she enters the Olympic Stadium to compete as an Olympic Athlete as part of the very first Olympic Refugee Squad.
If you lost everything – your home, your family, your country… Would you quit on life? Would you lay low and rebuild? Or would you – like Yusra – go all in and make a stand for your greatness?
In 2012, Yusra’s family home was destroyed in the Daraya Massacre, when Assad’s forces killed hundreds of his own citizens in their homes.
For the next three years, Yusra and her family tried to return to normality, but school was cancelled practically every week “or someone is shooting, and then you have to run.”
So Yusra and her sister made a bid to escape – getting smuggled to the Turkish coast to board a dinghy heading to Greece. As Mardini remembers, “There were 200, 300 people there, everyone waiting until there are no police in the sea so they can go.”
Yusra’s crowded dingy’s engine died within 20 minutes of leaving.
Only four in the boat could swim, but the two men who jumped in with Yusra and her sister soon gave up. Yusra says “I’m thinking, what? I’m a swimmer, and I’m going to die in the water in the end?”
So it was up to the two girls to keep going for the next three and a half hours: “The little kid kept looking at me, scared, so I was doing all these funny faces.”
They made it to Lesbos, then were smuggled through Serbia to Hungary, Austria and finally, Germany – where she spent the winter queueing for days at a time to get asylum papers.
So how did she end up at the Olympics? Yusra says “I remember everything… I never forget. But it’s the thing that’s pushing me actually to do more and more. Crying in the corner, that’s just not me.”
She continued her passion for swimming, and joined a local swimming club in Berlin, where her talent was seen by the National Team and IOC. She decided to make a bid for the Olympics despite having no country to compete for, and qualified for the 100m Freestyle & 100m Butterfly.
Now – one year after her swim across the Aegean Sea – Yusra is competing in the Rio Olympics as part of 10 athletes in the very first Refugee Olympic Team.
She will be in the Stadium tonight, for the opening ceremony, saying “I want to show everyone that, after the pain, after the storm, comes calm days. I want to inspire them to do something good in their lives.”
However tough things get, remember it’s the tough times that make you tougher.
So when you’ve got the option to sink or swim, keep on swimming.
Pierre de Coubertin, who founded the modern Olympics, said about the Games: “The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle.”
Yusra adds to that: “My message at these Games: Never give up.”
(Follow her progress at Yusra Mardini – Fanpage)