She Swam For Her Life Across The Mediterranean. Now This Syrian Refugee Is An Olympic Swimmer.

Yusra Mardini's extraordinary story is making headlines.

Last summer, Yusra Mardini was one of the thousands of Syrians making the desperate journey across the Mediterranean Sea on flimsy boats. Midway through the voyage, the boat began sinking and 18-year-old Mardini and her sister jumped off and swam in the frigid waters for three hours, pulling the overcrowded dinghy towards their destination, Lesbos, Greece, saving some 20 other people onboard.

Not even 12 months later, Mardini, who now lives in Germany, took to the water again — but this time as a member of the Olympics' first-ever Team Refugees, winning the opening heat of the women's 100-meter butterfly race on Saturday.

Though Mardini's time of 1:09:21 doesn't qualify her for the semifinals, her extraordinary story has made headlines across the world. 

"I want to represent all the refugees because I want to show everyone that after the pain and after the storm comes calm days," she said in a video for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) introducing members of Team Refugees. "I want everyone not to give up on their dreams. I want everyone to do what they feel in their heart, even if it's impossible."

Amidst raging anti-refugee and anti-immigrant sentiments — two issues similarly affected by xenophobic rhetoric on both sides of the Atlantic — Mardini's story is an incredibly human example of how these "outsiders" can and do contribute to the cultures that welcome them.

Earlier this year, the International Olympic Committee created a special team for refugee athletes to compete in the games in an effort to draw attention to their plight. 

The diverse group is made up of 10 athletes from Syria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ethiopia, respectively.

Although Mardini did not advance to the next round for the butterfly competition, she will have another chance to do so on Wednesday in the 100-meter freestyle heats. 

And after everything that she's been through, Mardini is steeled with the perseverance it takes to keep going. 

"I think we have to work because I want to go up on the level more, and I want to achieve a medal," she told BBC.

But according to some Twitter users, Mardini won all the medals before she even got into the pool.


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