Friday, August 5, 2016

A hero even before the Olympics

As this New York Times article reveals, 18-year-old Yusra Mardini is a swimming champion with a unique story. She'll compete in the Rio Olympics, not for her homeland of Syria, not for Germany, the country which has taken her in and enabled her to continue training, but for a new entity: a refugee team. These are athletes who are currently stateless or would otherwise not be allowed to compete under their home country's banner. Until I read this article, I didn't even know such a team existed. Kudos to the IOC for making that happen.

But back to Yusra and her unique story. Last August, she and her sister fled their country's civil war. In Turkey, they boarded a dinghy built for 6 people along with 18 others in the hopes of reaching mainland Europe. Twenty minutes in, the engine died. Then the dinghy started taking on water.

Afraid to go back and unwilling to wait for help that probably wouldn't come, Yusra, her sister, and two men jumped out of the dinghy into the Aegean Sea. They swam. They pulled and pushed and swam with that dinghy in tow for over three and half hours. Partway through, the two men stopped from sheer exhaustion and allowed themselves to be dragged along. But the two Mardini sisters kept swimming. The dinghy made it to the shores of Greece.

Unbelievable story, right? An Olympic medal may or may not be in her future, but this young lady has my vote as true Olympic hero.

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