Lessons in resilience, cooking and self-defence from refugee athletes

In August 2015, Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini saved the lives of 20 fellow refugees as they fled war-torn Syria for safety in Europe. Just a year later, she was competing at Rio 2016 as part of the IOC’s first-ever Refugee Olympic Team. Now Mardini and other team members are offering a series of Online Experiences in which they share tips and insights on a diverse range of topics ranging from resilience to Afghan cooking.

Yusra Mardini

There are some people who have faced physical and psychological trauma on a scale few of us can imagine, and yet emerged not just unscathed but stronger. Yusra Mardini, the swimmer from Syria who competed at Rio 2016 for the Refugee Olympic Team and is aiming for Tokyo 2020, is one such person.

When the small overcrowded dinghy carrying Mardini, her sister and 18 others began to take in water while crossing the Aegean Sea – the final stage of a treacherous journey from Syria to Europe – Mardini jumped overboard and swam alongside the boat for more than three hours to keep it afloat.

Getty Images

Having survived such an ordeal, 12 months later she found herself lining up against some of the best swimmers in the world in Rio’s Olympic Aquatics Centre, where she competed in the 100m freestyle and butterfly events.

In a year when the need for resilience has never been more important amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Mardini more than anyone is best placed to speak about the subject. Now others can learn from her through her Olympian and Paralympian Online Experience, in which she provides a workshop on how all of us can overcome challenges in our lives and develop resilience.

Mardini’s workshop is one of a series of inspiring virtual events, hosted on the Airbnb website, being offered by refugee athletes.

Kenyan athletics legend Tegla Loroupe, a three-time Olympian, knows exactly what it takes to succeed at the highest level after a glittering career during which she won some of the world’s most prestigious big-city marathons and set world records over 20km, 25km and 30km which still stand today. Four years ago, she fulfilled the role of Chef de Mission for the IOC Refugee Olympic Team Rio 2016, acting as a guide and mentor to athletes before and during the Games.

Olympic Refugee Team Getty Images

Loroupe is now offering Olympic fans a unique window into the lives of athletes during the long, hard months of preparation for the Games through her Experience, a virtual tour of the Tegla Loroupe Training Centre in Kenya. Hosted with James Nyang Chiengjiek, a 400m and 800m runner from South Sudan who competed for the IOC Refugee Olympic Team, it promises to allow viewers to witness exactly what some of the world’s elite performers put their bodies through as they attempt to peak for the biggest sporting event on the planet. 

And this is not all. Some of the IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship holders hoping to make their debuts next year at Tokyo 2020 are offering their own diverse range of Experiences. Cyclist Masomah Ali Zada will pay homage to her native Afghanistan by talking you through how to cook the popular Afghan ravioli dish, mantus, all while discussing her experiences as a refugee and her current life training for next year’s Games.


Meanwhile, taekwondo athlete Seyed Ehsan Naghibzadeh will show you how to enjoy a great workout, regardless of your level of fitness, while Amir Al Awad will draw on his experience as a wrestler to share self-defence strategies.


For fans of mindfulness, Asif Sultani will guide viewers through a meditative training session which has helped him perform physically and mentally as a karateka, and can help you feel healthier in both mind and body.


The IOC Refugee Olympic Team Experiences are part of the Olympian and Paralympian collection of Online Experiences available in partnership with Airbnb, providing athletes with the opportunity to earn additional income, as they share their passion and stories with people around the world.

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