The Olympics are over for another year, and whether you stayed up all night watching every event or just caught the highlights as they came up on your Facebook feed, it’s hard not to be inspired by the feats of athleticism, endurance, and strength.
And while every Olympian has had an inspiring and lengthy journey to get to the games, some athletes have had to strive past seemingly impossible barriers to get to the Olympic stadium.
Caroline Marton, Taekwondo, Australia
Caroline Marton made her debut at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games alongside younger sister Carmen Marton. Caroline failed to qualify for the London Olympics after heartbreakingly being disqualified while nine points up in the final London 2012 qualification bout.
She spent the past four years pursuing that dream and at age 32, stepped into the Olympic arena for the first time.
Marton’s parents fled Poland as refugees during the Cold War, and made their way to Germany before being granted Australian passports. They worked hard to create a future for the two girls and encouraged them to pursue their passions.
Yusra Mardini, Swimming, Refugee Team
Eighteen-year-old athlete Yusra Mardini competed in the Olympic 100m butterfly and 100m freestyle events, but her swimming ability had already taken her so much further. A member of the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team, Mardini fled the Syrian war with her sister just over a year ago.
After making their way through Lebanon and Turkey, the sisters boarded a dinghy with 18 other people to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Greece. When the engine stopped and the boat began to take on water, Mardini and her sister swam for three hours to lead the boat and it’s passengers safely to shore.
Mardini may not have won any medals, but just being at the Olympics was triumph enough.
Joseph Schooling, Swimming, Singapore
Our idols are meant to inspire us to reach further, strive harder and dream bigger. But what happens when you become your own idol? That’s what happened to Olympic swimmer Joseph Schooling, who won Singapore’s first Olympic gold medal.
Schooling beat out favourite Michael Phelps in the 100m butterfly, achieving an Olympic record in the process.
As a 13-year old Schooling met Phelps just before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Phelps went on to win 8 gold medals at the event, adding to his total (at the time) of 6 golds and 2 bronze Olympic medals. Schooling was a talented swimmer, even then, with his sights set on competing at the Olympics at some point in the future.
And in the end, isn’t that what our idols are meant to do? To inspire us to continue striving towards our goals, and to hopefully, one day, challenge us to become someone else’s idol.
Chelsea Jaensch, Australia, Women’s Long Jump
Jaensch was a talented athlete with dreams of going to the Olympics one day. But during her late teens, she left the sport following a bout of injuries and a preoccupation with her university studies.
But seven years later she returned to the sport. Not, however, because she had some unmet burning desire to achieve her dreams. But instead, she returned to track and field as a coping mechanism after experiencing anxiety that left her uncomfortable in most social situations.
She began by simply running around the track at her local high school and as her fitness returned, she began to consider reentering the national competition. She moved to Brisbane, sought out a coach and began training seriously after nine years out of the sport.
She secured her place with a qualifying jump of 6.70m, and rounded out her Olympic campaign with a 10th place finishing spot.
Lopez Lomong, United States, Men's Track and Field
In terms of journeys to the Olympic games, Lomong’s has been harder than most. As a six-year-old in Sudan, Lomong was kidnapped by soldiers and taken to a camp to be turned into a child soldier.
Lomong escaped from the camp and ran for three days to reach Kenya, where he spent ten years in a refugee camp. In 2001 he was settled in the US and adopted by a family.
The Rio Olympics is his second time representing the US - at the 2008 Beijing Olympics he was the flag bearer - and this time he has his sights set on gold.