I remember so vividly the first time I watched the Olympics. It was in 1996.
I wasn’t a huge sports fan, so when my mom started talking about athletes and competitions I wasn’t interested. But she turned on the TV and I was mesmerized by the idea of people from all over the world gathering in one spot.
Gymnastics takes place at the start of the Olympic Games, and that year the US women’s gymnastics team had a chance to win gold. I watched as Amy Chow, Dominque Moceanu, Shannon Miller and the rest of the team excelled and struggled. My mom let us stay up late to watch those final vaults when Kerri Strug competed even after hurting her ankle and helped push the team to victory.
I was much too tall and too old at that point to consider gymnastics, but I absolutely fell in love with the Olympics. I cheered out loud with my family as Michael Phelps set record after record, ate breakfast with my teammate while watching the Opening Ceremonies when we lived in Cambodia, and am currently following those who qualify for the Games happening in Tokyo. There’s just something about it, isn’t there?
As we start our book for this month, Butterfly by Yusra Mardini, we meet a girl who is inspired by the Olympics and determined to get there herself. Our section this week covers her family and early life, the start of her swimming career and the shifting safety of her life in Syria.
Other than a 6-week ballet class, I didn’t do sports or compete growing up. Did you? Did you identify with Yusra’s passion and drive, or her struggle to stay interested as life intensified around her?
It was interesting to read at the start of the book about Yusra’s family and their dynamics. Her father was a swimmer himself and very passionate about it as a coach. He was determined that his daughters would be swimmers too, even from a very young age. “I swim before I can walk,” Yusra wrote. At one point her father told her and her sister, “If your dream isn’t the Olympics, you aren’t a true athlete.”
A big chunk of our section this week follows the Arab Spring, which started with uprising and protests in Tunisia in 2011 and spread through several surrounding countries. Yusra and her family watched as the violence got closer to their home in Syria, not believing that it would actually affect them. But the brutality did reach Syria and is still ongoing there.
I can’t imagine the decisions people faced or still face—wanting to stay in the place that is their home, wanting to protect their family and loved ones, or like Yusra and her sister, wanting a future and something to pursue. Yusra witnessed countless friends just disappear, sometimes without knowing what happened to them, or later finding out they had been able to leave the country and settle elsewhere.
At the very end of this section, Yusra and Sara, her older sister, are able to secure a flight to start the journey out of Syria. We’ll have to check back in next week to see what happens!
What part of Yusra’s story was the most fascinating to you? If you could compete in the Olympics, which sport would it be in?
Here’s the schedule for the book:
July 13- Chapters 7-12
July 20- Chapters 13-17
July 27- Chapters 18-22, Conclusion