Spotlight On The Olympic Refugee Team

Spotlight On The Olympic Refugee Team

Meet the athletes who have risked it all.

It all began with a footrace on the outskirts of a Kenyan Refugee camp. Tegla Louroupe, a record-breaking distance runner and peace activist, had noticed people running around the camp for fun, and decided to organize some time trials. One thing led to another, and in 2015, the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to send the most elite refugee athletes to the Olympic Games.

The creation of the Refugee Team is not entirely unprecedented. Independent athletes have competed in the Olympics in the past without being part of a country's team. The President of the IOC says that the Refugee Olympic Team will "be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis."

The Refugee Olympic Team is made up of 10 athletes from Syria, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The six men and four women will be competing in swimming, track & field, and Judo. Meet the athletes that have risked it all.

Yusra Mardini

Yusra Mardini, 18, escaped from Syria last August. Her mother made the decision to send her daughters away from Syria after their home was destroyed in a massacre. She and her sister traveled for a month through Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, the Balkans, and Central Europe before finally reaching Germany. When their dinghy, a six person vessel containing 18 refugees, broke, the Mardini sisters were forced to swim through the choppy Mediterranean Sea, towing the boat behind them for three and a half hours. The sisters kept swimming, even when their fellow male swimmers gave up. The sisters now share an apartment close to Yusra's aquatic training center.

She will be competing in the 100m butterfly on Saturday, August 6th and the 100m freestyle on Wednesday, August 10th.

Rami Anis

Rami Anis fled Syria in 2011 to escape the military draft, which would have spelled an almost certain death. He would have been drafted into the government military that was firing on civilian neighborhoods, and did not want to be in a war where "all the victims are Syrians." Anis fled by car, plane, and boat through eight countries and across the Mediterranean Sea until he reached Belgium, where he now resides as a refugee. Rami began swimming competitively when he was 14 years old, but his refugee status barred him from competing internationally until 2015, when he settled in Belgium.

He will be participating in the 100m freestyle on Tuesday, August 9th and the 100m butterfly on Thursday, August 11th.

Rose Nathike Lokonyen

Track and Field
Rose Nathike Lokonyen and her family fled southern Sudan when she was just 10 years old with thousands of others to escape air strikes and famine. Now 23, Lokonyen has lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for the past 13 years with 180,000 other refugees. Rose began running in high school, but didn't realize just how talented she was until the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation held trials in the camp in 2015. Running barefoot, she finished second in the 10km. She will be joined by four other Sudanese runners from the Kakuma Refugee Camp. After the Olympics, Rose hopes to use her exposure to help other refugees find a voice.

She will be running in the 800m on Wednesday, August 17th.

Yonas Kinde

Track and Field
Yonas Kinde, 36, is a refugee from Ethiopia currently residing in Luxembourg. Political issues forced Kinde to flee from Ethiopia in 2012. In the years since, he has been driving a taxi and learning French, all while training for a marathon. Kinde was previously ineligible to compete in the Olympics and the European Championship because he was not affiliated with a country. He has won several small races in Europe, finishing a marathon with an impressive 2 hours and 17 minutes in Germany.

Yonas will be running the marathon on Sunday, August 21st.

Popole Misenga

Popole Misenga, 24, was separated from his family in the Democratic Republic of the Congo 15 years ago. After his mother was killed in the ongoing war, he was forced to flee his hometown. Misenga was finally rescued from the forest where he'd taken shelter eight days later. He has since moved to Brazil, but has been unable to contact his family. Popole discovered the sport of judo in a center for displaced children after he was rescued. He credits judo with saving his life, saying that it gave him "calmness, discipline, direction -- everything."

He will be competing in judo on Wednesday, August 10th.

Yiech Pur Biel

Track and Field
When he was 10 years old, Yiech Pur Biel fled Sudan to escape a deadly civil war. He traveled hundreds of miles alone until he ended up in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, where he has lived for 10 years. Now 21, Yiech didn't start running competitively until just over a year ago. He says training in the camps is very tough. "In the camp, we have no facilities – even shoes we don’t have. There is no gym. Even the weather does not favor training because from morning until evening it is sunny and hot.” He is one of the five Sudanese runners chosen from the camp.

He will be running in the 800m on Friday, August 12th.

Anjelina Nadai Lohalith

Track and Field
Anjelina Nadai Lohalith was forced out of her home in 2001 when her neighborhood was destroyed by the civil war in Sudan. At just six years old, she was separated from her parents, whom she has not seen since. Anjelina ended up in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in 2002, where she took up running for fun in primary school. The 21-year-old hopes that she can use her running success to reunite with her family.

She will be running in the 1500m on Friday, August 12th.

Paulo Amotun Lokoro

Track and Field
Paulo Amotub Lokoro was a cattle herder in southern Sudan before the civil war changed his life. In 2004, Lokoro's parents managed to escape to nearby Kenya. Paulo lived with his uncle for a brief period until the civil war reached his village. After hiding in the bush and surviving on fruits, Paulo was able to rejoin his mother in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in 2006. He participated (and excelled) in many sports in school. In 2015, he became one of the five Sudanese runners selected from the refugee camp time trials.

He will be running in the 1500m on Tuesday, August 16th.

Yolande Bukasa Mabika

Yolande Bukasa Mabika has few memories of her turbulent childhood, but the details that she has held on to are harrowing. After being separated from her parents, Yolande remembers running by herself before being picked up by a helicopter. She was then taken to a center for displaced children, where she took up the sport of judo. And although judo gave her something to work for and be proud of, she still suffered under the thumb of an abusive coach. Yolande fled from a competition in 2013 and wandered the streets of Rio de Janeiro, until she found asylum with a Catholic charity. Her fellow teammate, Popole Misenga, suffered similar abuse. She says that the IOC has helped her get her life back on track.

She will be competing in judo on Wednesday, August 10th.

James Chiengjiek

Track and Field
At just 13 years old, James Cheingjiek narrowly escaped being forced to join a Sudanese child army. After losing his father two years earlier, James did not feel that he would be well enough to withstand the trials of war. Traveling with other fleeing children, he finally reached a refugee camp in Kenya in 2002. There, James started training with other long distance runners. He says that most people ran without shoes, which caused a lot of injuries. If someone had a pair of shoes, they would share them with everybody.

He will be running in the 400m dash on Friday, August 12th.

Cover Image Credit: UNHCR

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To The Boy Who Will Love Me Next

If you can't understand these few things, leave before things get too involved

To the boy that will love me next, I need you to know and understand things about me and my past. The things I have been though not only have shaped the person I’ve become, but also sometimes controls my life. In the past I’ve been used, abused, and taken for granted, and I want something real this time. The guys before you were just boys; they didn’t know how to treat me until it was too late. They didn’t understand how to love me, until I broke my own heart. Before you truly decide to love me I want you to understand these things.

When I tell you something, please listen.

I’m my own person, I want to be loved a certain way. If I ask you to come over and watch movies with me please do it, if I ask for you to leave me alone for a few hours because it’s a girl’s night please do it. I don’t just say things to hear my own voice, I say things to you because it’s important to my life and the way I want to be loved. I’m not a needy person when it comes to being loved and cared for, but I do ask for you to do the small things that I am say.

Forgive my past.

My past is not a pretty brick road, it is a highway that has a bunch of potholes and cracks in it. I have a lot of baggage, and most of it you won’t understand. But don’t let my past decided whether you want to love me or not. My past has helped form who I am today, but it does not define who I am. My past experiences might try and make an appearance every once in a while, but I will not go back to that person I once was, I will not return to all that hurt I once went though. When I say those things, I’m telling the complete and honest truth. I relive my past every day, somethings haunt me and somethings are good reminds. But for you to love me, I need you to accept my past, present and future.

I’m just another bro to the other guys.

I have always hung out with boys, I don’t fit in with the girl groups. I have 10 close girlfriends, but the majority of my friends are guy, but don’t let this scare you. If I wanted to be with one of my guy friends I would already be with him, and if you haven’t noticed I don’t want them because I’m with you. I will not lose my friendships with all my guy friends to be able to stay with you. I will not cut off ties because you don’t like my guy friends. I have lost too many buddies because of my ex-boyfriends and I promised myself I wouldn’t do that again. If you don’t like how many guy friends I have you can leave now. Don’t bother trying to date me if you can accept the fact I’m just another bro.

I might be a badass, but I actually have a big heart.

To a lot of people I come off to be a very crazy and wild girl. I will agree I can be crazy and wild, but I’m more than that. I’m independent, caring, responsible, understanding, forgiving, and so such more type of woman. Many people think that I’m a badass because I don’t take any negatively from anyone. Just like we learned when we were younger, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.” Most people can’t do that in today’s world, so I stick up for myself and my friends. I don’t care what anyone thinks about me, or their option on how I live my life. The only thing I care about is being able to make myself happy. Even though I’m an independent woman, understand that I do have a big heart. Honesty when I truly care for someone I will do just about anything they ask, but don’t take advantage of this. Once you take advantage of this part of me, all respect will be lost for you.

I’m hard to love.

Sometimes I want to be cuddle and get attention, and sometimes I don’t want you to talk to me for a couple hours. Sometimes I want you to take me out for a nice meal, but sometimes I want a home cooked meal. Every day is different for me, sometimes I change my mind every hour. My mood swings are terrible on certain days, and on those days you should probably just ignore me. I’m not easy to love, so you’ll either be willing to find a way to love me, or you’ll walk out like so many others have.

I’m scared.

I’m scared to love someone again. I’ve been hurt, heartbroken, and beat to the ground in my past relationships. I want to believe you are different, I want to hope things will truly work out, but every relationship has always ended up the same way. I’m scared to trust someone, put my whole heart into them, just to be left and heartbroken again. I sick and tired of putting my whole body and soul into someone for them to just leave when it is convenient for them. If you want to love me, understand it won’t be easy for me to love you back.

When “I’m done.”

When I say “I’m done” I honestly don’t mean that I’m done. When I say that it means I need and want you to fight for me, show me why you want to be with me. I need you to prove that I’m worth it and there’s no one else but me. If I was truly done, I would just walk away, and not come back. So if I ever tell you, “I’m done,” tell me all the reasons why I’m truly not done.

For the boy who will love me next, the work is cut out for you, you just have to be willing to do it. I’m not like other girls, I am my own person, and I will need to be treated as such. For the boy that will love me next, don’t bother with me unless you really want to be with me. I don’t have time to waste on you if you aren’t going to try and make something out of us. To the boy who will love me next, the last thing I would like to say is good luck, I have faith in you.

Cover Image Credit: Danielle Balint

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The First Time My Mistakes No Longer Controlled My Life

Mistakes suck, and though I've conquered a few, I'm still learning.


The whistle blows as the team cheers on.

My heart pounds as if it will burst out of my chest at any given moment and I taste the salty sweat trickling down my face. I must serve over the net, I must get it in, I must ace my opponent or I will fail. Fear.

In his first inaugural speech, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously stated, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Such a statement proves powerful to the matured minds of society; however, in the minds of some adolescents, this declaration appears somewhat foolish, as numerous "threats" ignite fear, thus causing teens to grow anxious.

A major cause for fear in the rising generation takes form in failure. In the eyes of these people, making a simple mistake paves the way towards absolute failure; therefore, perfectionists constantly walk on eggshells attempting to do the impossible: avoid human error. This mentality gives way to constant stress and overall disappointment, as perfection does not apply to human beings. If one can come to the realization that not one person can attain perfection, they can choose to live life in ease, for they no longer have to apply constant pressure upon themselves to master excellence. The fear of failure will no longer encumber their existence, and they can overcome situations that initially brought great anxiety. I too once put great pressure on myself to maintain perfection, and as a result, felt constantly burdened by my mistakes. However, when I realized the inevitability of those mistakes, it opened the door for great opportunities. The first time I recognized that failure serves as a tool for growth allowed me to no longer fear my mistakes, and instead utilize them for my own personal growth.

The whistle blows as the team cheers on. My heart pounds as if it will burst out of my chest at any given moment, and I taste the salty sweat trickling down my face. I must serve over the net, I must get it in, I must ace my opponent. As hard as I try, I fail; as the ball flies straight into the net and thuds obnoxiously onto the gym floor, so does my confidence. I feel utter defeat, as I know my fate. My eyes water as my coach immediately pulls me from the game, sits me on the bench, and tells me to "get my head into the game" instead of dwindling on past errors. From then on I rarely step foot on the court, and instead, ride the bench for the remainder of the season. I feel defeated. However, life does not end, and much to my surprise, this mistake does not cause failure in every aspect of my life. Over time, I gradually realize that life does not end just because of failure. Instead, mistakes and failure pave the way toward emotional development and allows one to build character. In recognizing that simple slip-ups do not lead to utter failure, I gain perspective: one's single mistake does not cause their final downfall. Thus, this epiphany allowed for my mental growth and led me to overcome once challenging obstacles.

Instead of viewing mistakes as burdens, one should utilize them as motivation for future endeavors. The lesson proves simple: all can learn from their mistakes. However, it is a matter of choosing to learn from these mistakes that decide one's future growth. Instead of pushing faults away, I now acknowledge them in order to progress. Before coming to such a realization, I constantly "played it safe" in sports, fearing that giving my best effort would lead to greater error. I did not try, and as a result, I rarely failed.

Although such a mentality brought forth limited loss in terms of overall team success, it also brought forth limited, individual success. Today, fear of failure no longer controls life on the court. I use my mistakes as motivation to get better; instead of dwindling on an error made five minutes prior, I focus on the form needed to correct it. As a result, skills will constantly improve, instead of regress. Thus, errors serve as blessings, as it is through these errors in which one can possess the motivation to better themselves.

For some, fear acts as an ever-present force that controls every aspect of life. In particular, the fear of failure encumbers perfectionists, as the mere thought of failing causes great anxieties. In the past, I have fell victim to the fear of committing a mistake, and as a result, could not go through life without feeling an overwhelming sense of defeat. However, in a moment of what appeared to be a great failure, I finally recognized that life does not end due to one mistake, let alone one million. Instead, mistakes pave the way toward personal development and provide essential motivation to succeed in everyday life. Without mistakes, it proves difficult to grow in character. One must first learn to accept their faults before they can appreciate their best qualities. Thus, the fear of failure inhibits the growth of an individual; therefore, all must come to the realization that essentialness of mistakes, as they allow for the further development of overall character.

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