‘I shouldn’t be alive:’ Olympic refugee team swimmer stars in powerful video

Yusra Mardini
Under Armour
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Olympic refugee team swimmer Yusra Mardini signed with Under Armour and starred in a video published by the apparel company Thursday, telling her story of fleeing Syria in August 2015.

“I shouldn’t be alive today,” Mardini said in the video. “I should have been killed by the bomb that hit the pool in Damascus. I should have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. I should have been one of the many refugees who died along the way, but I am here, alive, because I kept moving. So many things tried to stop me, to break me. So many times something whispered, ‘This, now this, will defeat you.’ But I kept moving. Moving as I left my family behind. Moving through the fear when I was hiding in the forest. Moving through the sea, pulling a boat through the waves. Now, when my exhaustion rises, I remember. And my strength just rises higher. It says greater things than this have tried to stop me, and I keep moving.”

Mardini, 19, swam in Rio about one year after swimming for her life for three hours in the Aegean Sea while fleeing Damascus for Europe. She was one of 10 athletes on the Olympic refugee team.

In fleeing, Mardini, her sister and others went first to Lebanon, then Turkey, where they paid smugglers to take them to Greece.

Mardini has told the story of their hazardous journey on the Aegean Sea many times, of swimming for her life when the overcrowded inflatable dinghy started taking on water even after their luggage was thrown overboard.

“The engine broke and we had to swim three-plus hours to arrive to the other side. Me and my sister and two guys,” Mardini said. “My sister jumped in the beginning and then I jumped after her. We didn’t swim normally, but we had a hand on the boat and hand swimming and then kicked.”

Through their efforts dragging the boat, they eventually made it to the Greek island of Lesbos. An overland trek followed through Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary, where she experienced the worst conditions along her weeks-long journey. They hid from police, got arrested at borders, had belongings stolen and lost money on tickets as authorities refused to let trains pass.

“Hungary was awful. It was really hard,” Mardini said. “Hungary was the biggest fear for all the refugees.”

Eventually, the Mardinis made it to Berlin, where an Egyptian translator at their refugee shelter put them in touch with a local swimming club. A coach quickly realized Mardini’s potential and helped her make the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team for Rio.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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