This Syrian refugee swam to save her life. Now she won her Olympic heat in Rio. Shut up, you're crying too

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Yusra Mardini, a swimmer on the refugee team, won her heat in the 100 meter butterfly at the Olympics on Saturday in what is already one of the most inspiring stories of Rio.

Unfortunately, the 1:09:21 time did not qualify her for the semi-finals. She is scheduled to swim again in the 100 meter freestyle on Wednesday.

Mardini’s trip to the Olympics is enough to make you cry, unless you are dead inside. The 18-year-old and her sister, Sarah, fled their home in Damascus last year, first to Beirut, then Istanbul and the Greek island Lesbos. To get to Lesbos, they took a dinghy carrying 20 people, which almost capsized off the shore, according to the UN Refugee Agency.


Mardini, her sister and two other passengers were the only people on the boat who could swim, and they jumped off the ship and help push it to the shore. "There were people who didn’t know how to swim. I wasn’t going to sit there and complain that I would drown. If was going to drown, at least I’d drown proud of myself and my sister," she told UNHCR. After making it to Europe, the sisters traveled to the Western Balkans to Germany to restart their lives.

After swimming in a pool in Rio, Mardini said “everything was amazing," according to the Guardian. "It was the only thing I ever wanted was to compete in the Olympics. I had a good feeling in the water. Competing with all these great champions is exciting. I’ve only been back swimming for two years so we’re only now getting back to my levels of before.”

Mardini said she wants to make all the world’s refugees proud. This is the first year there is a refugee team competing. There are 10 athletes from Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Ethiopia.

“I want to represent all the refugees because I want to show everyone that, after the pain, after the storm, comes calm days,” Mardini told UNHCR in March. “I want to inspire them to do something good in their lives.”

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