It takes an exceptional level of strength and agility—both physical and mental—to achieve the level of greatness needed to make it to the Olympics.
It’s even more impressive for those athletes who’ve had to creatively navigate around obstacles or disadvantages beyond their control.
Take 18-year-old swimmer Yusra Mardini, one of 10 athletes on the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team. A year ago, she fled Syria, traveling on a month-long journey through Lebanon, Turkey and Greece on her way to Germany. On one leg of her trip, the motor on an overloaded dinghy broke while out in open water, so she, her sister and two men jumped in and started pulling the boat.
I’m thinking, what? I’m a swimmer, and I’m going to die in the water in the end? she told The New York Times.
Despite the rough seas and cold temperatures, they kept on, eventually reaching the shore in Greece.
By saying yes to perseverance and hope, they achieved something amazing: saving the lives of 20 people—including their own—and finding their way to a better life. Even in the face of the most dire circumstances, the power of saying yes to something that seems impossible leads to the biggest successes.
Yusra eventually made it to Germany, where she continued her training and ultimately selected to join the Olympic Refugee Team, serving as a symbol of hope for others in her situation.
One day she hopes to return to Syria and share her story.
I remember everything, of course,” she told The New York Times. “I never forget. But it’s the thing that’s pushing me actually to do more and more. Crying in the corner, that’s just not me.
Fellow Olympic swimmer, American Cody Miller, also understands what’s possible after saying yes. When he was 10 years old, he was diagnosed with pectus excavatum, a sunken-chest deformity.
“Tests have shown that my sunken sternum and odd placement of other bones has caused reduced lung capacity,” he said on Imgur.com. “To what extent is unknown. Doctors have said my maximum breathing capacity is likely reduced by 12-20%.”
Though he faced obstacles, Cody focused on YES instead—yes to hard work, yes to dedication and yes extreme discipline. The kind of yes that breaks records. He broke the American record in the individual 100-meter breaststroke, taking home the bronze medal, and together with his team, broke the Olympic record to win the gold in the men’s 4×100-meter relay.
Despite my disadvantages, I’ve dedicated my life to swimming. And [I] never gave up, he said.