by Adele Peters
Originally published: August 3, 2016
In August 2015, 18-year-old Yusra Mardini and her sister Sarah fled the war in Syria, spending a month traveling to reach safety in Germany. When their tiny, overcrowded boat from Turkey broke down before it reached the shore in Greece, the girls jumped into the water and helped guide it to safety, swimming three and a half hours to help save the others onboard. This month—exactly a year later—Mardini will swim in the Olympics, as a member of the first-ever refugee Olympic team.
The new team includes another Syrian swimmer who escaped to Belgium, an Ethiopian marathon runner who now drives a taxi in Luxembourg, two judo experts from the Congo (now living in Brazil), and five long-distance runners from South Sudan, who have been training in a camp set up outside Nairobi by the record-breaking Kenyan runner Tegla Loroupe.
Mardini had been training in Syria for years, but as the war escalated, it was hard to continue. In 2012, her family's home was bombed. Two of the other swimmers she trained with were killed soon afterward, and then her training center was damaged in another attack. But after Mardini finally reached Berlin in 2015, she started swimming again. And when the International Olympic committee decided to pull together a refugee team last year, her name made it on the list.