clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Refugee athlete who saved 20 lives by pushing boat for 3 hours wins swimming heat at Rio Olympics

New, 5 comments
Olympics - Previews - Day - 3 Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images

There are dozens of amazing teenage athletes at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, but nobody has a story like swimmer Yusra Mardini, who is competing under the International Olympic Committee flag as part of the refugee team.

Many people have their lives thanks to the efforts of Mardini and her sister just over a year ago. The sisters were fleeing Syria along with 18 other people when the refugees’ dinghy began sinking in the Aegean sea during a trip to Greece. The motor had failed, nobody on the boat could swim except the sisters. It’s a story that often ends in tragedy, but they ensured that didn’t happen. The two women leaped out of the boat, into cold waters and pushed the boat three hours in open water to prevent it from capsizing -- eventually making it to land. It was a move that not only saved the lives of the 18 people in the boat, but ensured the sisters lived.

It sounds like a horror story, but instead Mardini used the moment in her life for motivation.

"I remember that without swimming I would never be alive maybe because of the story of this boat. It’s a positive memory for me."

Now living in Germany, life is much better. Initially she began training, and was being considered as an Olympic hopeful for the 2020 games in Tokyo, but the refugee team allowed for Mardini’s dream to be realized much sooner. She is working tirelessly not only in swimming, but in changing the perception of refugees around the world.

"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,"

Just making it to the Olympics would have been an achievement enough, but the 19-year-old just won the first heat in the women’s 100 meter butterfly.

h/t Independent


Introducing the first refugee team in Olympic history: