“Get­ting women out­doors en­ables them to re­claim public space, which ul­ti­mately helps to shift the per­cep­tion of gen­der roles in so­ci­ety.”

Canadian Running - - DEPARTMENTS -

UN Of­fice of the High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights in Geneva.

“With Free to Run, I wanted to do some good be­yond my UN work,” she says. “Through sports, men and women have the chance to de­velop self-con­fi­dence, un­der­stand­ing and tol­er­ance. We fo­cus on women and girls who have been af­fected by conf lict be­cause we be­lieve they are an un­der­served pop­u­la­tion and they hold the most po­ten­tial for pos­i­tive change.”

In Afghanistan, Free to Run be­gan with a hike for about 10 women, and ex­panded with ski­ing, run­ning and team lead­er­ship clubs for fe­male high-school and univer­sity stu­dents. Al­though Free to Run op­er­ates in some of the coun­try’s safest ar­eas, par­tic­i­pants must over­come more than just the phys­i­cal chal­lenge of run­ning to pur­sue their dreams.

“We’ve seen men throw rocks and shout abuse at women run­ners,” says Case. “They call them pros­ti­tutes and say these women are not rep­re­sent­ing Is­lam.”

De­spite these deep-seated misog­y­nist at­ti­tudes, Free to Run demon­strates that run­ning is more than just a soli­tary sport mea­sured by dis­tances trav­elled and PBs achieved: It changes lives and com­mu­ni­ties. One of Case’s proud­est mo­ments was ac­com­pa­ny­ing Zainab, one of Free to Run’s am­bas­sadors, in the in­au­gu­ral Marathon of Afghanistan in 2015, where she be­came the first Afghan woman to run a marathon in the coun­try.

“Get­ting women out­doors en­ables them to re­claim public space, which ul­ti­mately helps to shift the per­cep­tion of gen­der roles in so­ci­ety,” Case says. For Case, this idea of sport as an agent of change and com­mu­nity-build­ing is what at­tracts her to ul­tra­run­ning. A self-pro­fessed school nerd (“I much pre­ferred to study for an al­ge­bra test than play a game of soc­cer,” she jokes), Case de­vel­oped an in­ter­est run­ning in univer­sity. Af­ter run­ning her first ul­tra, Rac­ingThePlanet, a 250-kilo­me­tre stage race in Viet­nam, in 2008 af­ter she grad­u­ated from law school, she was hooked. “I love the com­mu­nity aspect of ul­tra­run­ning,” she says. “It’s an in­di­vid­ual sport, but it so of­ten in­volves a team to suc­ceed. I gain so much in­spi­ra­tion from other run­ners, see­ing them over­come pain and fa­tigue, and I love the ex­pe­ri­ence of crew­ing to help oth­ers achieve suc­cess. It just isn’t some­thing you’ll find in a 10k .” Since that ini­tial race, Case has won or placed in more than 40 in­ter­na­tional run­ning events, in­clud­ing plac­ing 15th fe­male at the 2017 Western States 100-miler, and se­cur­ing the fourth fe­male plac­ing at the 2017 Tor des Géants, a 330-kilo­me­tre trail race in Italy. What’s next? In March, Case will move back to Afghanistan for work, and in May, she will com­pete in the iau World Trail Cham­pi­onships on Team Canada. “I’ve done a lot of my bucket-list events,” says Case. “I am now start­ing to think about new types of ad­ven­tures, rather than races. It is my dream to run an ul­tra­ma­rathon in Afghanistan with Free to Run. I hope to con­tinue build­ing on our suc­cess, deepen our im­pact and strengthen the re­la­tion­ships with the com­mu­ni­ties in which we work.” When run­ning is more about con­nec­tion than com­pe­ti­tion, every­one can see how it takes a vil­lage to raise a new gen­er­a­tion – of run­ners and so­cial ad­vo­cates. Amy Stu­pavsky is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor. A Toronto ex­pat, she now runs and writes in Berlin.

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