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Yusra Mardini, from a war zone to the Olympics

22 Jul 2021, 22:30 GMT+10

© Provided by Xinhua

Competing in Tokyo isn't competing for medals in Yusra Mardini's case, the 23-year-old Syria-born swimmer, hopes her participation can help end the stigma of being known as a refugee and is inspiring others forced to leave their home to dream big.

BERLIN, July 22 (Xinhua) -- Yusra Mardini immediately started to cry when the news came confirming her second Olympic Games appearance.

In the shared apartment in the Barmbek suburb of Hamburg, the 23-year-old swimmer was overcome by her emotions. For the second time after Rio 2016, she would be part of the 29 athlete strong IOC Refugee Olympic team.

"Rio was emotional. I couldn't believe I was a part of everything. But this is much more now. Again, I couldn't believe it, I will be competing a second time," said Mardini.

The heart-breaking story of the Syria-born athlete was told around the world five years ago, and for many, she has developed into a role model for millions of refugees.

Surviving a traumatic journey from the Middle East to Europe in an inflatable boat, the young woman made her way to Germany, trying to fulfill her dream of a life in peace after growing up in a war-torn country.

Together with her older sister Sarah, she returned to daily training in the sport that saved her life, first in Berlin than in Hamburg.

After the family home was destroyed during the civil war in Syria, the little boat took on water. So Yusra and Sarah Mardini jumped into the roaring sea, trying to drag the boat through the waves to the shore of Lesbos.

Despite still being scared of open water, she quickly discovered her love for swimming in the stability of her new life in Germany after representing Syria in 2012 at the swimming world championships.

Swimming had always been a passion for the family as father Ezzat is a swimming instructor dedicating his life to water. He taught his three-year-old daughter to swim.

Meanwhile, the little girl turned into a woman but is still infected by her father's desire. "Swimming saved my life on the way to Germany after escaping from Syria. And when I came here, swimming helped me rebuild my life from zero," she said.

Competing in Tokyo isn't competing for medals in her case; it's a message, she said.

In Rio, she missed the next round after winning her heat as her time over 100 meters freestyle and butterfly wasn't fast enough to qualify for the semifinals.

© Provided by Xinhua

She hopes her participation can help end the stigma of being known as a refugee and is inspiring others forced to leave their home to dream big.

The Tokyo Games might be her last Olympics as she is applying for a German passport.

As for her future plans, Mardini wants to study at university and help refugees enjoy a better life.

Being appointed as a UNHCR - the UN refugee agency - ambassador, she dreams of her foundation. "I want to study as well; I want to act; I want to do many things. But swimming remains my number one," she said, adding being part of the Olympics is her most prominent dream.

Her story, she says, is an example for others always to stand up and continue no matter how hard life might be.

In Tokyo, she wants to use international attention to tell people: "There are still many out there dying, and there are still people not welcoming refugees all around the world."

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