Under Armour Finds a Remarkable New Ad Star in Teenage Refugee Olympian Yusra Mardini

Syrian swimmer narrates a powerful new :90

Headshot of Erik Oster

She didn’t take home any medals, but her story was perhaps the most inspiring of the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Now, 19-year-old Yusra Mardini can add Under Armour brand ambassador to her impressive list of accomplishments. The sportswear maker has announced that the freestyle and butterfly swimmer is the latest addition to its team of international athlete endorsers, representing UA Women alongside Misty Copeland and Lindsey Vonn.

Mardini, a Syrian refugee, represented the Refugee Olympic Team at the Rio Games, after facing an unimaginably perilous journey to make it there. Since then, she has become the youngest-ever Goodwill Ambassador for UN Refugee Agency UNHCR and was named to Time magazine’s 30 Most influential Teens of 2016 and People magazine’s 25 Women Changing the World lists.

“We are inspired by her drive and accomplishments, both as a person and as an athlete,” Chris Bate, Under Armour’s managing director for Europe, said in a statement. “The way in which she is dealing with life’s challenges, both past and present, shows a tremendous amount of character.”

She’s also a compelling narrator of her own story. UA just released a 90-second spot to accompany the announcement on its social media pages. It features Mardini telling her harrowing story in her own words. The spot was made by German agency Nordpol, working with UA’s European in-house creative team; agency Droga5 was not involved.

“I shouldn’t be alive today,”Mardini begins. “I should have been killed by the bomb that hit the pool in Damascus.”

She goes on to explain how she should have “died in the Mediterranean Sea,” one of countless refugees to suffer such a fate. Instead, when their boat’s motor gave out on the trip from Turkey to Greece, Yusra and her sister pulled the boat across the Aegean Sea, even after the two other passengers who had jumped overboard to help gave up. She is alive today, she explains in the ad, simply because she “kept moving.”

Now, when she hits a wall of exhaustion while training, she remembers her past trials as inspiration and her “strength just rises higher.”

The spot concludes with the message, “Turn your pain into strength,” and the brand’s “I Will” tagline.

A year after fleeing the violence in Syria, Mardini swam at the Rio Olympics. “I thought it would be a real shame if I drowned in the sea, because I am a swimmer,” she said in a statement. “It was an indescribable feeling to swim in Rio.”

Mardini hopes to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, while she expresses allegiances to three potential teams. “Syria, Germany, the Refugee Team—all of them have done a lot for me, and therefore I carry all three flags in my heart,” she says.

“We fully support Yusra Mardini on her athletic journey, and UA will accompany her every step of the way heading towards Tokyo,” Bate added.

UA isn’t the only one to realize the potential of Mardini’s inspiring story. A book of her life story will be released in May 2018, and British production company Working Title has acquired the film rights to her life story. A movie is already in the process of being developed, with Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Reader) reportedly tapped to direct the project.

Client: Under Armour Deutschland / Europa
Marketing: Stefanie Kroll, Philipp Walter, Conrad Lagemann, Karina Engeldal, Tim Duffels, Barry Schmits

Agency: Nordpol+ Hamburg
Creative Direction: Tim Schierwater, Sebastian Behrendt
Copywriters: Simon Rösel, David Krumwiede, Janet Champ, Aaron Kaplowitz
Art Direction: Bekim Terzija,
Agency Postproduction: Maximilian Fritz, Noel Lent, Jana Strüwe
Accountants / Strategy: Leonard Schlenk, Niklas Franke, Aylin Özsüyek, Natalie Rukuschewitz

Film Production: Smuggler
Service Production: Tempomedia
Executive Producer US: Patrick Milling Smith, Allison Kunzman
Executive Producer UK: Fergus Brown, Trine Pillay
Production Manager: Adam Evans
Producer: Gunnar Meyer
Director: Björn Rühmann
DoP: Kolja Brandt
Editor: Alexander Jurkat
Sound Design: Wenke Kleine-Benne, NHB Studios
Music: Gordian Gleiss, Shai Caleb Hirschson, NHB Studios
Colour Grading: Toby Tomkins, Cheat
Post Production: Cheat

@ErikDOster erik.oster@adweek.com Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.