Having fled from war, the young woman competed in the 100 free style in the 100 butterfly. A year ago she almost died in the Aegean Sea during a crossing. Her faith, courage and swimming skills saved her life and that of 17 other people. “I could not drown – she recalls – because I am a swimmer and I had a future to pursue.” Now her thoughts turn to Tokyo in 2020.
Rio de Janeiro – In spite of the finishing position – 41st in the 100 butterfly and 45th in the same distance Freestyle – the Olympic motto that “the important thing is taking part” is more meaningful for her than any other competitor. Because, less than a year ago the 18 year-old Yusra Mardini was very far from competing in an Olympic pool in Rio de Janeiro, instead she was fighting in the Mediterranean waters to save her own life and the lives of a small group of refugees from drowning.
Yusra, a young Syrian Christian, grew up in Damascus but fled the country in August 2015 after years of war and violence. She has become the symbol of hundreds of thousands of refugees. Women, men, children fleeing war zones and poverty in the Middle East and Africa in search of welcome and asylum in Europe and North America.
She was the flag-bearer of the Refugees Olympic Team, a first for the games strongly desired by the Olympic committee, representing a population of over 63 million people. A team consisting of 10 athletes, whose status has been verified by the United Nations: Two Syrian swimmers, two judokas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, five athletes of the South Sudan and an Ethiopian marathon runner.
Commenting immediately after the race, Yusra Mardini spoke of an extraordinary” moment and of being “very happy” despite the result. “I want all the refugees to be proud of me – she added – and that they know that after long and complicated journey, you can achieve important results”. Recalling the dramatic moments of her flight from Syria, she said: “I could not drown that day, because I am a swimmer and I had a future to pursue”.
The young swimmer escaped from Syria with her sister in August 2015, arriving in Lebanon and then Turkey. Here they contacted some smugglers in an effort to reach the shores of Greece. They set off, but the Turkish coast guard blocked their boat, forcing them to turn back.
The girls tried again, a few days later, on board a smaller boat, full of people. An hour and a half into the crossing the engine stopped, in the middle of the icy waters of the Aegean Sea, at night.
Yusra, with her sister and three other refugees (the only ones able to swim), dived into the water and in a massive undertaking managed to drag the boat to the Greek coast, to Europe, to her dream of peace, of freedom, of sport. After three hours swimming, they reached the island of Lesvos: the lives of 17 people were saved, thanks to their efforts.
From Greece, the two sisters travelled first to Austria, then to Germany, in Berlin, where Yusra lives and trains with the Wasserfreunde Spandau 04 team . On completion of the Rio 2016 Games, in addition to participation in the World Swimming Championships Turkey in 2012, her goal is to better prepare for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Her specialty is the 100 butterfly and 100 freestyle, but her goal is to qualify for the 200 freestyle.
“In Syria I worked in a swimming pool to watch people not drowning, so if I let anyone drown or die I would not forgive myself”. Moreover, as the young daughter of a swimming instructor, she has been around the discipline of swimming from an early age and already three years was in the water, to learn the basics.
As a very young child she was part of the Syrian Olympic hopefuls, but the violence of the war interrupted her dream at age 13. Suddenly, she recalls, “we could not go anywhere”, and the precariousness of life began to be felt. However, not even the destruction of their home in the Daraya massacre, in 2012, was able to undermine her combatative nature.
It is also thanks to the faith she received and cultivated in her family that she was able to save her life in the tumultuous moments on the Aegean Sea. In those dramatic hours Yusra Mardini turned to the Lord. At that difficult time, she still remembers, “everyone was praying” each according to their faith. It was an experience that “you can not put into words”.
And the journey from Greece to Germany was no easier, with long marches on foot and nights spent in the fields or in churches, seeking shelter. Despite having a sum of money with her, in many cases, taxis and restaurants refused her service. Finally, thanks to an Egyptian interpreter, she met with the managers of one of the oldest swimming clubs in Berlin, which opened the doors of the pool; and then the birth of the Refugees Olympic Team and the dream of five circles became a reality.
Speaking of his daughter, her father said she is living a dream. However, she certainly does not see herself as a heroine: “It’s amazing to know I am a source of inspiration for many,” concludes the young woman. “My message from these games is just … Never give up!”.
Source: Asia News