On this episode of The #AskASwimPro Show, Syrian swimmer and Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) Yusra Mardini shares how she is training during quarantine in Germany, her favorite dryland exercises, and an inspiring message for swimmers in the middle east and around the world. 

Yusra was born in Syria, and moved to Germany as a refugee in 2016 because of the ongoing war in her home country. She still retains her refugee status.

Swimming has been a part of Yusra’s life since she was 5 years old, and she has been swimming professionally since age 10. In 2016, Yusra’s lifelong dream came true — she competed at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, joining fellow refugees under the Olympic flag as part of the Refugee Olympic Team. 

Related: Jessica Long, 23-Time Paralympic Medalist | The #AskASwimPro Show

The Pandemic in Refugee Communities 

Yusra highlighted that many refugees don’t have access to the same medical resources, food or shelter that we do. In this global pandemic, we should all be concerned about their safety and health. She suggests that those of us with means share what we can, including food, medical supplies, and even good thoughts.

Her message to refugees is that times are tough, but they should be patient. Hopefully, one day things will change. She is proud to serve as an advocate for refugees and push for change. 

Related: Jason Lezak | The #AskASwimPro Show

Training During a Pandemic

Yusra reported that the pandemic situation in Germany feels relatively calm — everyone stays home, and is doing their best to cope with the situation. 

All of Yusra’s training facilities in Hamburg are closed, so she is doing a lot of running and cycling, and enjoys doing core and HIIT workouts. Her coach is having her spend a lot of time working on shoulder stability, too.

Swim Training

Yusra is a butterfly specialist, and also swims freestyle. When she’s able to train in the pool, she enjoys working on butterfly drills to perfect her stroke. She supplements her swim training with weight training in the gym, listing hip thrusts and deadlifts among her favorite exercises. 

While she’s hopeful that she will be able to get back in the pool soon, Yusra is being realistic about the near future. She explained that many people in Germany are only planning about 2 weeks at a time, rather than looking far into the future.

Related: Sparking Joy While Being a Fish Out of Water

Looking Toward Tokyo 2021

The one future event Yusra does have her eyes set on is the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo. She said that competing in the 2016 Olympics was incredible — it didn’t feel real. She is very proud to be a positive symbol for Syrians and other refugees around the world in her second Olympics. 

When the 2020 Olympics were postponed to 2021, Yusra was disappointed, but understood why the games needed to be pushed back. She noted that there’s nothing anyone can do to change the fact that the Olympics and many other competitions are canceled. There’s no use complaining about it. She recommends that athletes continue to train as best they can while pools are closed. The only thing swimmers can do is move forward and keep a clear mind.

If an athlete is really frustrated about not being able to swim, Yusra recommended that they try something new, like cycling or running. She has learned how to ride a bike during the quarantine!

Advice for Middle Eastern Swimmers

Yusra advised swimmers in the middle east to keep pushing toward their dreams! Don’t let anyone tell you your dream is impossible. If you love something, pursue it. There are thousands of paths to lead you to where you want to be — if one path closes, another opens for you. Trust your coach, put in the work and show the world how good you are.

Everyone needs motivation, especially now, and it’s important that we stick together and support each other in hard times, Yusra said.

Sharing Her Story

Yusra documented her story in her book Butterfly, which has been translated into 16 languages (and soon it will be translated into Arabic!). Yusra writes about her childhood, her journey from Syria to Germany, and the struggles she experienced to get to where she is today.

Yusra has found that many refugees are afraid to tell their stories. She said she is proud to be an inspiration to fellow refugees and people everywhere, noting that when you lose hope, that’s when everything comes to you.

Missing Home

Yusra mentioned that she misses her friends and family back in Syria. She also misses the food! She can get some Syrian food in Germany, but it doesn’t taste the same. 

Fun Facts

  • Yusra loves all types of music. She regularly listens to English music and really enjoys old Syrian music, too.
  • She loves to eat! 
  • She loves anime
  • She enjoys watching Formula 1 racing and tennis

Follow Yusra’s journey on Instagram at @mardiniysra.

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