Yusra Mardini competed at the 2016 Olympics when she was 17.

New Delhi:

The world celebrates April 6 as International Day of Sport for Peace to honour all the athletes who were displaced from their country but did not give up on their dreams. One such athelete is Yusra Mardini, who fled war-ravaged Syria as a teen but then went on to compete in the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games as part of the Refugee Olympic Team.

Born into the heart of Syria’s Damascus, Yusra Mardini’s early years were filled with the echoes of her father’s tales of swimming glory. From a tender age, she was drawn to the water, her passion fueled by the dreams of winning a medal at the Olympics. But fate dealt her a cruel hand as civil war ravaged her homeland, tearing apart the fabric of her existence.

At just 13, Yusra’s world shattered amidst the chaos of conflict. The safety of home became a distant memory as bombs shattered their neighborhood, forcing her family to seek refuge with relatives. Yet, even amidst the turmoil, Yusra clung to her dreams, training tirelessly in the face of danger.

In 2015, after braving shelling and snipers for four years, Yusra Mardini and her elder sister Sara decided to leave the country in search of safety. After reaching Turkey via Lebanon, the teenager and her sister Sara arranged to be smuggled into Greece by boat, but quickly found herself back in danger.

The boat’s engine failed, and with the lives of everyone on board at risk, Yusra, along with Sara and another passenger, jumped into the water and pushed the boat for hours until they reached Greece, saving the lives of those aboard.

Their harrowing 25-day journey eventually led them to Germany, where Yusra found solace in the familiar embrace of the water. Despite the challenges of being displaced and adjusting to a new country, Yusra never gave up on her dreams. She joined a local swimming club in Berlin, where her exceptional talent caught the attention of coaches and the public alike.

The pinnacle of her journey came in 2016 when Yusra, as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team, stood on the world stage at the Rio Olympics. Though her performance in the 100m butterfly heat placed her among the lower ranks, her triumph transcended the medal podium. In her words, she carried not just the Olympic flag but the hopes and dreams of a global community.

Speaking to five-time Olympic champion Katie Ledecky on Olympic Day, the young swimmer reflected: “The moment I entered the stadium, that changed the way I think about the word refugee.”

“I know that I am maybe not carrying my country’s flag but I’m carrying the Olympic flag which represents the whole wide world,” Yusra added.

Yusra’s indomitable spirit continues to inspire millions around the world. Named the youngest ever UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, her advocacy for refugee rights echoes far beyond the pool.

The release of “The Swimmers” in 2022 further cemented her legacy, while her inclusion in TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People In The World in 2023 affirmed her impact on society.

By Alex Benjamin

Alex Benjamin, historian, quizmaster, and author, passionately explores history's depths. Renowned for unearthing forgotten facts, he's a quiz expert captivating audiences worldwide.

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