This team of refugees reminds us of exactly what the Olympics is about — unity.

At the Rio Olympics in 2016, ten athletes came together to compete under a single flag.

They hailed from South Sudan, Congo, Ethiopia, and Syria, and each one had fled their home country under dire circumstances.

They marched in the Opening Ceremony with the Olympic flag, coming out just before the host country of Brazil’s team. Together, they were the Refugee Olympic Team (ROT), bringing together people who had been forced from their countries for safety reasons, and giving them a group they could represent and compete for.


These athletes gave a face to the growing refugee crisis and fulfilled lifelong dreams they thought had become impossible. They were “a symbol of hope for refugees worldwide,” according to a press release from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

A mural of the ROT athletes. Photo by Agência Brasil Fotografias/Wikimedia Commons.

They also were a reminder that sports — and the Olympics themselves — are about much more than medals.

Because the Olympics have always been divided by country, this left refugees with nowhere to compete and nowhere to belong at the Games.

But in recognizing the existence of these athletes, the IOC also recognized the complexities that exist beyond the sports themselves. Because, try as some people might, there's no way to fully separate sports and politics; they are, and always will be, intertwined.

The world’s refugee crisis, which is still ongoing two years after the Rio games, is the worst it’s been since World War II, when some 60 million Europeans became refugees. It was during that time that the concept of a “refugee" became formally recognized by the United Nations — though they had, of course, always existed.

History is repeating itself in other ways, too. Countries, like the United States and Hungary, are refusing to admit refugees, citing the fact that they could pose a security threat. In 1939, the U.S. turned away a group of Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust.

But by bringing their stories to the forefront, the IOC highlighted the challenges — and triumphs — of current-day refugees.

Photo by Agência Brasil Fotografias/Wikimedia Commons.

For example, Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini swam for her life just less than a year after she swam for Olympic glory. In 2015, Mardini and her eldest sister, Sarah, fled their destroyed home in Damascus to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece.

It was a dangerous trip and their overcrowded boat suffered engine failure. Mardini, Sarah, and two others jumped into the water and pulled the boat to safety on the Greek Island of Lesbos.

"We were the only four who knew how to swim," Mardini said, according to Olympic.org. "I had one hand with the rope attached to the boat as I moved my two legs and one arm. It was three and half hours in cold water. Your body is almost like … done. I don’t know if I can describe that."

The 19-year-old said her message to others at the Games was to “just never give up.” A year after the Games, Mardini was one of People magazine’s “25 women changing the world,” had become a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), was working on a memoir which was going to be a film, and training for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

Photo by Agência Brasil Fotografias/Wikimedia Commons.

And Mardini wasn't the only athlete with a harrowing story to tell and obstacles to overcome.

Thirteen years after she ran for her life in Chukudum, South Sudan, Rose Nathike Lokonyen ran the 800m in Rio — and served as the flagbearer for the ROT. She finished seventh in her heat, and, a year later, addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council in Switzerland. She also spoke to Pope Francis in Sweden.

And she wasn’t the only member of the ROT to meet with the Pope. Fellow South Sudan refugee Paulo Amotun Lokoro, who competed in the 1500m, went to the Vatican. "The first day I arrived they treated me like a big boss, and I am not a boss!” he told CNN. “People liked me a lot."

The stories of these athletes prove that sports can accomplish more than just physical feats.

They can provide a sense of belonging and camaraderie and bring awareness to larger issues that are facing athletes as well as average individuals around the world.

Photo by Agência Brasil Fotografias/Wikimedia Commons.

The athletes of the ROT made history when they competed in the Olympic Games, and many of them are continuing that work today by speaking out and advocating for change.

As we celebrate the 2018 Olympic games, let's honor the athletes that came before, shaping our world for the better.

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Little did he know that she would successfully become all three: an award-winning biomedical and mechanical engineer who performs cutting-edge medical research and has started multiple companies.

Bhatia holds an M.D. from Harvard University, an M.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT, and a PhD in biomedical engineering from MIT. Bhatia, a Wilson professor of engineering at MIT, is currently serving as director of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, where she's working on nanotechnology targeting enzymes in cancer cells. This would allow cancer screenings to be done with a simple urine test.

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Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign, is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

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Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

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