Refugee swimmer Yusra Mardini
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Under Armour

Facts about Swimmer Yusra Mardini

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Yusra Mardini is not only a professional swimmer, but also an encourager for millions of refugees around the world. She comes from Syria, where her career as a swimmer began under her father's training. In 2015, Yusra came to Germany as a refugee herself, along with her sister Sara. On the run, her training paid off: She saved the lives of nearly 20 people.

Once in Germany, she came to the attention of the Berlin club Wasserfreunde Spandau 04 - from then on, things went steeply uphill. Yusra participated as part of the Refugee Team in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. A film about her life was released on Netflix in late 2022. A documentary on ARD and Arte followed in July 2023.

We have for you 6 exciting facts about a swimmer who is far more than just a competitive athlete and reveal what Mardini does today.


Youngest UNHCR ambassador ever

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 Sara Mardini, Yusra fled the civil war in Syria in 2015. From Turkey, as part of a larger group, they attempted to cross they were part of a larger group trying to cross the sea to Greece in a rubber dinghy. When the boat's engine stopped, Yusra and Sara, who is 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, together with the other swimmers, saved the lives of 20 people.

In February 2023, she was seen on the BAFTA Red Carpet alongside Cate Blanchett in her role as Ambassador.


Spandau instead of Damascus

In the swimming pool of her hometown Damascus, Yusra witnessed a grenade penetrating the roof during the civil war. The training group was lucky, the grenade sank to the bottom of the pool without exploding.

Their old training routine cannot be compared to the one in Berlin. She resumed training at Wasserfreunde Spandau after fleeing to Germany. The club, known for its internationally successful water polo players, became a temporary home for Yusra. She then lived in Hamburg and trained there at the Olympic base. In the meantime, Yusra lives in the USA for her studies and still swims, but no longer competes.

She is still the Syrian record holder today. In 2012, she swam the 400 metres 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.

Meet Yusra Mardini!

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A warm-up for Barack Obama

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. In 2016, Time magazine listed her as one of the 30 most influential teenagers.

In 2023, Yusra and her sister Sara Mardini were listed in TIME's"The 100 most influential people of 2023" and by as one of 101 women shaping sports.


No face for a tea package

Of course, Yusra is also on the social networks. Over 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 do drink tea, but to see my face on a package, that's weird," she told the Bild newspaper.

Now she is also working with swimwear brand Arena, where she has her own collection. Yusra is working on her own fashion label and founded the Yusra Mardini Foundation, through which she works for equality with the power of sports.


A film on Netflix

At the end of 2022, Yusra was once again given a special honor - the streaming service Netflix released "The Swimmers "The Swimmers", a film based on the biography of her and her sister Sara Mardini.

The two Syrian sisters are portrayed by two other sisters - 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 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.


ARD documentary about Sara Mardini's commitment to humanity

Image credit:
SWR/DOCDAYS Productions/Zamarin Wahdat

The commitment of sisters Yusra and Sara Mardini pays off - in July 2023 ARD publishes a documentary about Sara. In "Against the Current - Sara Mardini's Commitment to Humanity" Charly W. Feldmann accompanied Sara for four years through ups and downs in the fight for justice.

Due to Sara's engagement for refugees in 2018 on Lesbos, she was charged for human trafficking. After a four-month prison sentence, which she was allowed to leave on bail, she is still awaiting trial. Not only Sara and Yusra are part of the film, a co-accused friend, Seán Binder, also has his say.

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