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Yusra Mardini, 18, will be one of ten athletes who will compete as a part of the first ever Refugee Team in the  Olympics. Less than a year ago, Mardini swam to escape war in Syria, and this month, she will be competing in the 100-meter freestyle and 100-meter butterfly events. The road to the Olympics is not easy for most athletes, but Mardini's road was special and especially difficult.

Last August, Mardini and her sister fled Syria on a monthlong journey. In 2012, her family's home was destroyed in a massacre in Damascus, one of the worst onslaughts in the early part of the war. Soon after, two of her fellow swimmers were killed, and a bomb destroyed the center where she trained. She and her family decided that enough was enough, so she began her journey.

On August 12th, 2015, Mardini, her sister, two of her father's cousins and a friend fled from Damascus to Beirut, Lebanon, and to Istanbul where they met smugglers and a group of refugees, who joined them for the duration of the trip. They traveled to Izmir, Turkey where they boarded a tiny dinghy with 18 other people.

They set out, but were caught by boarder agents and sent back. The second attempt resulted in the engine dying after 20 minutes. Of the 20 refugees on board, Mardini, her sister and two young men were the only ones who could swim, so they jumped over board. She and her sister swam for three and a half hours, guiding the boat.

"I'm thinking, what? I'm a swimmer," said Yusra Mardini to the New York Times. "I'm going to die in the water in the end."

The dinghy eventually made it to the shore of Lesbos, Greece, but their difficult journey continued.

"Everyone was praying," Mardini said. "We were calling the Turkish police, the Greek police, saying: 'Please, please help us. We have children! We are drowning!' And they just kept saying: 'Turn and go back. Turn and go back."

The group traveled on foot for days at a time and eventually met up with Greek smugglers, who took them through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria and finally, Germany. They arrived in a refugee camp in Berlin where they shared a tent with six other men.

"I was happy!" Mardini said. "I don't have any problems. I'm in Germany. I have my sister. That's it."

After getting settled in Germany, Mardini began training again and was convinced that she would be a candidate for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but once she learned that the International Olympics Committee could be making a refugee team, she realized that her dreams could come true sooner. She was granted a training scholarship in January.

A medal in Rio seems to be out of reach for Mardini, whose fastest times are nine and 11 seconds slower than the qualifying times.

"I'm expecting a personal best," she said.

Mardini's story is an inspiration to so many, and although she may not win a medal, the honor to compete in the greatest sporting event in the world is a true accomplishment. The International Olympic Committee will successfully honor the refugee crises around the world by allowing the Refugee Team to compete with athletes from South Sudan, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria. Yusra Mardini's story is just one of many who should remind the world what people in countries like Syria have to deal with on a daily basis and should inspire the world to give back.

"I remember everything, of course," said Mardini. "I never forget. But it's the thing that's pushing me actually to do more and more. Crying in the corner, that's just not me."


Published by Lia Assimakopoulos