What does perseverance mean to high school students? Is it studying hard for a test in a difficult subject? Is it practicing a skill until they’re the best they can be? For Yusra Mardini, perseverance means swimming.

And while swimming at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, is an impressive feat, what makes me admire Mardini’s perseverance is not just her athletic ability, but her backstory.

In 2015 Mardini and her sister fled their war-torn homeland of Syria and crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece in a small boat overcrowded with 20 refugees. When their vessel began to capsize, only four aboard knew how to swim. Mardini, her sister, and two other refugees swam for three and a half hours until they reached the shores of Greece. Holding onto the ropes of the dinghy, Mardini struggled in the freezing water to save her own life and the lives of her passengers.

Now a resident of Berlin, Germany, Mardini was discovered by a coach who saw her swimming at a local swim club. She began swimming for two to three hours before school and continued again in the evening in her adopted country. Her skills, determination to succeed, and perseverance earned her a spot on the first-ever Olympic team comprising solely of refugee athletes.

In spite of her tumultuous journey, Mardini, now 18, chooses to view her sojourn as an adventure. After all, if she hadn’t become a strong swimmer, her life could have taken a very different turn.

Perseverance is a combination of continuous hard work, problem-solving skills, and a positive mindset. Although few high school students may encounter as dramatic an experience as Mardini’s, her story is a strong reminder – to teen-agers and adults alike -- about the power of perseverance.

It is unlikely Mardini will medal at the 2016 Olympic Games, but as the world rallies behind Mardini, her story has tugged at the heartstrings of millions to remember to never give up. The next time I feel my own goals are out of reach, I’ll think of Mardini and her fellow refugee Olympians, and move toward my ambitions, no matter how difficult it may seem.


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