The Syrian refugee who swam for her life

There are those whose footsteps we would not want to follow, whose shoes we would not want to be in – yet we strive to have their character, their strength, their drive and their courage. It is from them we learn that the worst of humanity can bring out the best in humanity.

Yusra Mardini used to be a typical teenager. She would chew the fat with friends, smartphone in hand, laughing.

The middle of three daughters, she lived at home with her parents, attended a gymnastics club and loved swimming – she could potentially become a great swimmer – yet it was an ordinary life, not the sort of existence journalists would travel far to write about.

Then came Syria’s civil war, the callousness of conflict, with its bombs, its suffering, its death.

Cheerful chatter was no longer normal and as the years passed – one becoming two, three turning into four – home morphed into hell as her country was torn apart.

She was alive but not living. Her house came under fire, forcing the family to move. The roof of the swimming pool where she trained in the Syrian capital of Damascus was ripped open by bombs. She could see the water, but no longer be in it. It was torture.

Mardini knew of footballers who had died in an attack. “I could not take it any more,” says the 18-year-old.

This daughter of a swimming coach had two choices: exist in her homeland without hope, or escape for the freedom to dream.

“Maybe I’m going to die on the way,” she explains. “But I’m almost dead in my country. I can’t do anything.”