Yusra Mardini has been the youngest ambassador of the UN refugee agency UNHCR since April 2017. For the organization, she is the face of the global refugee crisis and an inspiration for refugees in the same situation.
With her sister Sarah, Yusra fled the civil war in Syria in 2015. From Turkey, they attempted to cross as part of a larger group, they tried to cross to Greece in a rubber dinghy. When the boat's engine stopped, Yusra and her sister - also a competitive swimmer - and two other fugitives jumped into the water. They stabilized the boat and pulled it to shore while swimming for over three hours. In this way, the two sisters, along with the other swimmers, saved the lives of 20 people.
They were recently seen in their role as ambassadors alongside Cate Blanchett on the BAFTA Red Carpet.
In the swimming pool of her hometown Damascus during the civil war, Yusra witnessed a grenade penetrating the roof. The training group was lucky; the grenade sank to the bottom of the pool without exploding.
Their everyday training in Berlin is completely different. She resumed training with the Wasserfreunde Spandau after fleeing to Germany. The club, known for its internationally successful water polo players, became a temporary home for Yusra. Afterwards she lived in Hamburg and trains there at the Olympic base. In the meantime, Mardini lives in the USA for her studies. It is not known whether she is still actively training.
Mardini is still the Syrian record holder today. In 2012, she swam the 400-meter freestyle at the World Short Course Championships in Istanbul in 4:56:66 minutes, setting a Syrian national record. The German record is just under four minutes.
In 2016, Yusra was allowed to speak at the United Nations. With her speech of just under three minutes, she led over to the appearance of then U.S. President Barack Obama at the UN General Assembly, whom she later also met for a one-on-one conversation. Obama praised her "as a great role model" for children around the world.
He also reportedly asked her about her family and gave her an autograph on her speech manuscript. The period after the Rio Olympics thus became the peak of her worldwide fame. The young swimmer also met Pope Francis and the Japanese foreign minister. Time magazine included her on its list of the 30 most influential teenagers.
Of course, Mardini is also on social media. Almost 800,000 followers follow her life on Instagram. For her role as an influencer, she received an "About you" award in the sports category in May 2021. "I am very grateful to be alive. When I started swimming, I never imagined that sports would save my life," she said in her acceptance speech.
She probably never imagined that she would one day be in front of the camera for well-known brands like Burberry or Tommy Hilfiger. But she doesn't want to be marketed at any price. When a tea manufacturer wanted to print her face on its packages, she refused. "I drink tea, but to see my face on a package, that's weird," she told the Bild newspaper.
At the end of 2022, Yusra was once again given a special honor - the streaming service Netflix released "The Swimmers," a film based on her and her sister Sarah's biography. "The Swimmers", a film based on the biography of her and her sister Sarah.
The two Syrian sisters are portrayed by two other sisters - the Lebanese actresses Manal and Nathali Issa embody the Mardini sisters. Superstar Matthias Schweighöfer also stars in "The Swimmers," which is broadcast worldwide.
Since then, it has been a little quieter around Yusra Mardini, who is currently studying in the USA. We are curious to see if we will see her in the water again in international competitions. But her commitment to refugees continues to this day.