Stories of Hope from the Olympics

"My dream is for the world to be at peace and there will be no more refugees anymore," said Yusra Mardini, Syrian swimmer and member of the Refugee Olympic Team

Stories of Triumph and Hope

Did you spend weeks of your summer glued to the television watching the games unfold in Tokyo or did it pass by without you noticing? While sports may not be your thing, we always love the stories of triumph and hope that come out of the games, and this year we needed that more than ever.

We were particularly excited about the stories we saw emerging of perseverance and commitment from the immigrants and refugees competing, both on the U.S. team and on the Refugee Olympic team. We were cheering on the Refugee Olympic Team, made up of 29 athletes who were named by the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee.

IOC President Thomas Bach said of the team, “This will be a symbol of hope for all refugees in the world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis. It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society.”

Here are a few other stories we loved:

  • Ariel Torres immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba with his family when he was 4 years old. His family started out in a friend’s basement. When Torres got involved in karate as a way to expend extra childhood energy, he would dress in his uniform at traffic lines while his dad held a sign asking for “Donations for Karate Tournament.” Torres represented the U.S. at the Tokyo Olympics.


  • There were few opportunities for girls in sports in Haiti. In fact, Wadeline Jonathas didn’t start running track until she was 16 years old. By that time, she had already immigrated to the U.S. when she was 11 and experienced homelessness when she was 15. Now, she’s competing for the U.S. She went to the Tokyo Olympics at age 23! Her story is an inspiration, showcasing the importance of hard work and the support of others.


  • Saeid Fazloula received death threats and no longer felt he was safe in his home country. He made the choice to flee everything he knew, including his successful canoeing career, in Iran. Though he found a new home in Germany, he spent years trying to make an Olympic Games. His dream was realized this year in Tokyo. When he found out he was granted one of the IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarships, he said, “feel relieved. It’s been a long, hard road. So many people fought with and for me. I would like to thank you all today.” Saeid finished fourth place in the third quarterfinal of the men’s kayak single 1000m event. What an amazing story of hope persevering!


  • Did you know there was a Dreamer in the 2021 Olympics? Sure, everyone competing at that level has a dream, but Luis Grijalva is a DACA recipient in the United States. He ran for his home country Guatemala, and his journey to get to Tokyo was full of unexpected twists and turns. Most notably, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to leave the U.S. to get there. DACA recipients, in general, are not allowed to return to the U.S. if they leave the country. DACA is a deferral of action, but it does not grant legal status. Undocumented immigrants are subject to a 10-year ban from reentry after living in the U.S for years without status, and DACA recipients can face this same punishment. Just a few days before he had to leave, Grijalva was granted “advance parole,” which allows DACA recipients to travel internationally for specific circumstances. In the second heat of the men’s 5000-meter race, Grijalva placed 10th, which qualified him for the final race.