Syrian Olympic Swimmer Yusra Mardini Speaks at Refugee Summit in NYC

Syrian Olympic Swimmer Yusra Mardini addressed national leaders at a global summit on the plight of refugees in New York City last week.

Mardini was a part of the newly-formed Refugee Olympic Team at the Rio Olympics after being forced to flee her native country. While making the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey, attempting to make land in Greece and be smuggled into the country, her boat (designed for 6 but holding 18) lost its motor. The boat began taking on water in the Aegean Sea, and Mardini, her sister, and 2 others left the boat and pushed it for the last 3 hours of their journey to Lesbos.f

Mardini eventually settled in Berlin, Germany where she took up training with Sven Spannenkrebs at Wasserfreunde Spandau 04.

Mardini competed in the 100 fly, where she finished 30th in the 100 fly in 1:09.21; and the 100 free, where she was 45th in 1:04.66.

Last week, Mardini spoke at the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees and Migrants, designed for world leaders to work on cross-border solutions for the estimated 65.3 million displaced people around the world, including 21 million refugees.

“This experience has given me a voice and an opportunity to be here,” Mardini said in her comments to open the event. “For me, I want to help change people’s perception of what a refugee is, for everyone to understand it is not a choice to flee from your home and that refugees are normal people that can achieve great things if given the opportunity.”

American president Barack Obama commended Mardini for her “courage” and “resilience” in his opening remarks.

“Yusra, we could not be prouder of you — not just for the great introduction, but more importantly, for your courage and your resilience and the great example that you’re setting for children everywhere, including your eight-year-old sister, who I know must look up to you,” Obama said.

Mardini was one of two swimmers on the Refugee Olympic Team, along with Rami Anis.

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Steve Nolan
7 years ago

Down in Rio, I was around pretty much every Olympic swimmer. Saw everyone, walked by ’em in the hallways, even talked to some. The only ones I was too star-struck by to actually approach were the refugee Olympians. Just absolutely amazing. There’s always gonna be a new gold medalist every four years, but there aren’t gonna be too many people that push a damn boat back to shore.

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Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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