Swimming Toward a Dream: Yusra Mardini’s Incredible Journey from Refugee to Olympic Swimmer

By Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Asma Enayeh. Page Street Kids, 2023. 40 pages. $18.99/hardcover. Recommended for ages 4–8.

This book tells the story of Yusra Mardini, a young Syrian refugee who swam in the 2016 Olympics for the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team. Some people may already be familiar with this inspirational story from the dramatized version in the 2022 film The Swimmers, which is rated PG-13, or from Mardini’s 2018 autobiography, Butterfly. But Swimming Toward a Dream brings her story to younger audiences, initially focusing on her childhood swimming days in Damascus. Yusra learned how to swim before she could walk. She loved swimming and spent many hours in the pool. Yusra won medals for Syria in the International Swimming Federation Championships. Like many young athletes, she dreamed of someday competing in the Olympics. However, the Syrian civil war made life and the pursuit of her Olympic dream very challenging.

Eventually Yusra, her sister, Sara, and a cousin decided to leave Syria to find a new home in Europe. The journey was arduous. After reaching Turkey, Yusra and her sister traveled on a small, six-person boat jammed full with 20 refugees hoping to reach Greece. Far from land in the Aegean Sea, the motor failed. Since Yusra and Sara were the strongest swimmers aboard, they jumped into the water with two others to push and pull the boat to safety. Three and a half hours later, the boat arrived in Greece.

Finally after many more days of difficult travel, the sisters arrived at a refugee camp in Berlin. After Yusra settled in, she began swimming at a local pool, and she considered the possibility of an Olympic swim in 2020. She received a surprise invitation from the International Olympic Committee to swim for the first refugee team in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She placed first in her heat but did not qualify for the semifinals. Yusra kept swimming and competed in the 2020 Olympics that took place in 2021. Two years later, she announced her retirement from competitive swimming. She is also a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Refugee Agency. Author Reem Faruqi summarized the messages of this book: “I hope Yusra’s journey inspires you to welcome refugees, to never give up, and to always follow your dreams.”

Vickie LeCroy is a retired educator and lives near Nashville, Tenn. She is a mother and grandmother.

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