Smart Girl Stories
The Medini Sisters

The Mardini Sisters – Olympic Swimmers

Born in the quiet suburbs of Damascus, Syria, Yusra and Sarah Mardini are Olympians, United Nations Ambassadors, and characters in a Netflix feature film called “The Swimmers.” When the war broke out in Syria in 2011, the Mardini family’s athletic goals were shattered—but Yusra and Sarah managed to cross several countries and survive life in temporary relief camps before settling in Germany and even competing in the Olympic games.

Swimming to Freedom

The Mardini sisters grew up in a family of athletes. Their father, mother, and siblings were all professional swimmers. When the war broke out in Syria, they didn’t want to leave and risk the life of a foreigner living far from home in distant places. The Mardinis waited years for things to calm down, and steadily pursued their athletic goals, until one day an explosive destroyed the pool where they were having practice sessions. This made them decide to leave Syria for safety in the summer of 2015.

Their Motivation And Dreams

Yusra Mardini was just 17 at the time and had dreams of competing in the Olympic games. Training all her life for this goal, Yusra was forced to leave everything behind as the war went on and on. Her and her sister, Sarah, aged 20, decided to make the dangerous journey across 7 countries to reach the safety of Germany.

With nothing but a backpack, a little bit of water and candy, and the clothes on their backs, Yusra and Sarah Mardini started their move with a flight to Lebanon, then to Turkey, and from there to the waters of the Mediterranean Sea on board a boat to Greece. With 18 people and one child on board, the Mardini sisters put their lives in the hands of a smuggler who placed them on a dingy promising to get them across the water.

Like so many others just like them, their boat was overcrowded and unstable. During the journey, the motor shut down and they started sinking. The Mardini sisters saw their future being cut short as they came face-to-face with the possibility of sinking into the sea, “Yes, I knew the water my whole life, but this time, I didn’t know it.”

Sisters Scared In The Water

Sarah Mardini was scared on the water for the first time that night, but she jumped in any way to pull the boat to shore and was followed by her sister, Yusra, who said she could see the island but was afraid that she might not be able to reach it, “a lot of people on the boat did not know how to swim.”

After swimming for almost 4 hours, they made it to shore, in Greece. From there, they spent 6 months at a refugee camp before being resettled in Berlin, Germany where they immediately applied to be reunited with their families back home.

Reaching the Olympic Games – “Sport Saved My Life” 

After reaching Germany, the Mardinis went on different paths. Yusra focused on training for the Olympic games and Sarah went back to the camp in Greece to help other refugees still running from the war. Yusra remembers, “I didn’t want to enter the Olympics because people felt sorry for me, I wanted to earn my spot at the Olympic games.”

After training 10 to 12 times a week, Yusra Mardini earned her spot in the Olympics, where she carried the flag of the Refugee Olympic Team, “sport saved my life” she says and was featured in a 2022 film on Netflix called “The Swimmers.”

The Mardini Sisters Story

Sarah and Yusra Mardini’s amazing journey from Syria, across seven countries, to Berlin is told in a beautifully illustrated film that says a great deal about hope in the face of struggle. Needless to say, the Mardini sisters have gone down in history as heroes and accomplished athletes whose stories of success and survival are an inspiration to all.

Learn about more inspiring girls on our Smart Girls page, or follow our Instagram page for more stories like this!



Founder, Smart Girl, Survivor, Champion of womens rights and kids rights


Smart Girl Stories shares stories of inspiration from writers across the globe.

We ask each writer to adhere to our Smart Girl Stories pledge. The views expressed in our articles are those of the author and are meant to spark conversation and inspire you. They don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of SmartGirl Stories. We are honored to share their stories, as well as yours. To learn more – visit us here.

Follow Me

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.