Yusra Mardini grew up living a decidedly normal life, with her parents and sister Sara. Before she could walk, her and her sister both were pushed by their father to begin swimming. At a young age Yusra developed a dream to swim for her country, Syria, in the Olympics. Mardini’s upbringing was once no different that that of an average western teenager. Although many of the surrounding countries in the Middle East had erupted with trouble, it was not until tanks were on streets near her that Yusra felt threatened by war. Yusra and Sara decided to undertake the 25-day escape to Germany with 30 other refugees. From Lesbos, Greece to Budapest, Hungar, they were denied the basic necessities of living based on the fact that they were refugees. Even after arriving in Germany Yusra felt alienated by the residents of Germany. Mardini’s initial housing in Germany was an over crowded refugee camp where commodities were scarce. Swimming coach Sven Spannekerbs noticed her commitment to training and offered her a chance to swim competitively and a place to stay at the aquatics centre. When questioned by Sven about her motivations and goals Yusra replied instantly: ” I want to go to the Olympics “.
In the summer Olympics of 2016 in Rio, Yusra Mardini swam for more than just her country. Swimming on the first ever refugee Olympic team gave her aspirations to use this new platform as a way to fight through social biases and restraints associated with the term “Refugee.”
Now, as an Olympic athlete Yusra Mardini seemed to break through that one word label and the negative connotations that go along with it. While achieving this she is also giving refugees a voice on one of the biggest stages on the planet. As the success and reputation of this athlete rises, the word “refugee” seemingly hides behind the title of “Olympic athlete”. Should it take becoming an elite athlete/national figure to bypass the restraints that a label has in a society? (Social Integration of North Korean Refugees through Sport in South Korea) Where do the negative views and stigma for refugees stem from within a country that has opened its borders to people fleeing their homes to seek peace? More importantly, as a refugee, should you have to reach a certain status in society to feel accepted?
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