In August, Syrian sisters Sarah and Ysra Mardini swam for three hours between a coast of Turkey to the Greek island of Lesvos seeking asylum. Today, they practice swimming at a Berlin swimming pool that was built for the city’s 1936 Olympics.
According to an AP report, the Mardini sisters were swimming stars in their homeland. In fact younger Ysra, now 17, swam for the colors of Syria at the short-course world championships in Turkey in 2012.
But war forced the Mardini sisters to leave Syria and seek refuge in the West. They left Damascus in early August, traveled to Lebanon and from there to Turkey. Then they paid smugglers to transfer them to Greece.
Once they left Turkey, the coast guard drove their boat back to the coast. In their second attempt they left at dusk, piled in an inflatable boat with many other refugees. Thirty minutes into the journey, the dinghy started taking on water.
The desperate passengers started throwing their belongings in the sea to make the dinghy lighter. Ysra, Sarah and three others who were competent swimmers also jumped in the water and hung from the ropes in order to save the rest of the passengers who couldn’t swim.
“I was not afraid of dying, because if anything happened I could swim to arrive at the island. But the problem was that I had 20 people with me,” Sarah told AP. “In Syria I worked in a swimming pool as a lifeguard, so if I let anyone drown or die I would not forgive myself.”
For three hours they clung onto the ropes until the boat reached shore on the island of Lesvos. Their real journey started there, as they met the kindness of strangers and at the same time the cruelty of raised fences.
Eventually they reached Berlin, where a local charity organization put them in touch with a swimming club. Now they train on a daily basis.
Ysra, who specializes in butterfly stroke, is aiming high, according to AP. “Maybe when I learn German I will start school. I want to be a pilot,” she said. “And with my swimming I want to reach the Olympics.”
Sarah, is trying to bring the rest of the family to Germany. In the pool, she prefers long-distance swimming.
“It seems to me that I have balanced my life,” said Sarah. “We can’t do anything good in our life if we don’t have swimming,” the report concludes.