Sarah Mardini was born in Damascus, Syria in 1995 to Mervat and Ezzat Mardini. The oldest of three children, Mardini also has two sisters, Yusra and Shahed Mardini. During her childhood in Syria, Sarah’s mother worked as a physiotherapist while her father worked as a swimming coach, as reported by Vogue. Because of her father’s work, both Sarah and Yusra began swimming from an early age. An exceptional swimmer, Yusra even went on to compete on the Refugee Olympic Team in the 2016 and 2020 Olympics.
The Cinemaholic reports that when the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, Sarah was in law school while also training as a professional swimmer like her sister Yusra. But within a year, the fighting in Damascus had become so severe that it was too dangerous for the Mardini sisters to get to the swimming pool amidst all the shootings.
In an interview with 1000 Dreams, Sarah states that in addition to losing their family home, the inability to swim was the biggest catalyst in pushing them to flee Syria. “I think that was the main reason that we couldn’t go swimming. We couldn’t go to school, and the main reason was also losing the home, our home. So that was a decision.”