Stephanie Case

THE UL­TRA AC­TIVIST

Runner's World (UK) - - Heroes -

FOR Stephanie Case, run­ning in Afghanistan usu­ally meant log­ging laps in­side the United Na­tions com­pound in Kabul, where she worked as a hu­man rights lawyer. Then, one day, the 34-yearold ul­tra run­ner hitched a UN he­li­copter ride to the Koh-e Baba Moun­tains for a day of un­re­stricted run­ning. Dur­ing that run, she thought, I’d love Afghan women to ex­pe­ri­ence this sense of free­dom.

When Case floated the idea of a run­ning club for women, other or­gan­i­sa­tions dis­missed it as too dan­ger­ous. To her sur­prise, it was Afghan women who pushed for the idea. ‘I thought, if they’re in­ter­ested and brave enough to try this, I should be brave enough to help them,’ she says. So in 2014, Case founded Free to Run. Its goal: to use the sport to em­power women and girls af­fected by con­flict in their coun­tries.

Twelve women from Bamiyan, a town about 80 miles north­west of Kabul, joined her for two days in the moun­tains; af­ter that in­au­gu­ral out­ing, the group met once or twice a month. In 2015, a Free to Run mem­ber be­came the first fe­male Afghan to com­plete a 26.2 in her own coun­try, the Marathon of Afghanistan in Bamiyan, and in Fe­bru­ary 2016, the coun­try’s first mixed team – trained by Free to Run – fin­ished Rac­ingth­e­p­lanet, a 155-mile ul­tra in Sri Lanka.

To­day, there are teams in three Afghan prov­inces and Case has ex­panded her ini­tia­tive to Hong Kong (where it is aimed at refugees). In Novem­ber 2016, more than 100 women and girls from Free to Run pro­grammes ran ei­ther the 10K or the 26.2 at the sec­ond Marathon of Afghanistan.

Stephanie now lives in Geneva, but keeps in con­tact with her teams, co­or­di­nates their train­ing and vis­its of­ten. She’s hop­ing to ex­pand her pro­grammes. ‘Chang­ing the per­cep­tion of women’s role in so­ci­ety is a way to achieve peace,’ she says. ‘It’s not for the to-do list af­ter there’s peace.’

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