Refugees bound for Rio Olympics

With all the hype about individual stars competing in the Olympics from so many different countries and widespread concern over drug-taking and testing, you may have missed the news that this year, for the first time, a team of refugees will compete as well.

The International Olympic Committee announced the selection of 10 refugees who will compete this August in Rio de Janeiro, forming the first-ever Refugee Olympic Athletes team. They include two Syrian swimmers, two judokas from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a marathoner from Ethiopia and five middle-distance runners from South Sudan. You can read all about their stories here.

Their stories are all inspirational, none more than the 18 year old Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini. Here is just part of her story:

As the flimsy vessel started taking on water, 16 year old Yusra knew what to do. Stranded off the Turkish coast with about 20 other desperate passengers, the teenager from Damascus slipped into the water with her sister, Sarah, and began swimming and pushing the boat towards Greece in an extraordinary act of courage.

“There were people who didn’t know how to swim,” says Yusra, who represented Syria at the FINA World Swimming Championships in 2012. “It would have been shameful if the people on our boat had drowned. I wasn’t going to sit there and complain that I would drown. I am a swimmer… I could help”.

Not long after arriving in Germany in September 2015, she started training with a club in Berlin. Now 18, she is preparing to compete in the women’s 200-metre freestyle event in Rio.

Yusra is yet another reminder of the resilience many refugees show as they flee persecution and war. I personally will be cheering her and her team mates on. I hope you will too.