Great Strides

When Run­ning Meets Ac­tivism

Canadian Running - - DEPARTMENT­S - By Amy Stu­pavsky

The oft-re­peated ax­iom is that all any­one needs to run is the will and a pair of run­ning shoes – ex­cept, as Stephanie Case dis­cov­ered, it isn’t quite that sim­ple. In 2012, Case, a United Na­tions hu­man rights lawyer, was sta­tioned in Afghanista­n. As an avid ul­tra­run­ner, she wanted to main­tain her train­ing regime dur­ing her place­ment, but she faced un­ex­pected hur­dles. “I was liv­ing in an armed com­pound in Kabul un­der UN se­cu­rity rules,” Case says. “I couldn’t walk out­side, let alone run. Run­ning is an in­te­gral part of my iden­tity, and sud­denly I was in an en­vi­ron­ment where my free­dom was taken away.”

Un­de­terred, she be­gan run­ning laps within the com­pound at night, but her ex­pe­ri­ence with re­stricted free­dom got her to think about how she could im­prove the lives of Afghan girls and women through sport. “Through my work, I met many women and girls who were not only re­stricted in their move­ments by se­cu­rity threats, but also by so­cial and cul­tural norms that largely con­fined them to the home,” ex­plains Case. “They wanted to be able to play sports, walk or run out­side, or do any of the things that we take for granted, but they didn’t have the chance.”

Afghanista­n has one of the worst rep­u­ta­tions for women’s rights glob­ally, and de­spite ad­vance­ments since the fall of the Taliban, women still en­counter ob­sta­cles to jus­tice and in­volve­ment in public life. Mar­i­tal rape is com­mon­place, and at 13 per cent, women’s lit­er­acy rate is the low­est in the world. Out­door ath­let­ics is the ex­clu­sive do­main of men.

Case ran three ul­tra­ma­rathons and raised $10,000 for a lo­cal women’s shel­ter, but to her sur­prise, the women were more in­ter­ested in her run­ning than her phil­an­thropic ef­forts. “The older women had grown up par­tic­i­pat­ing in sports be­fore the Taliban gained power, but the younger ones had never known the joys of run­ning,” says Case. “What they wanted me to do was to help them to run.”

This mo­ment formed the cat­a­lyst for Free to Run, a non-profit Case founded in 2014 that aims to em­power women and girls in ar­eas af­fected by conf lict by pro­vid­ing out­door sports op­por­tu­ni­ties. Over the past four years, the or­ga­ni­za­tion has grown to in­clude a pi­lot pro­gram in South Su­dan and there are plans to launch ac­tiv­i­ties in Iraq and the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of the Congo later this year.

Through Free to Run, Case in­ter­twines her pas­sions of run­ning and pro­mot­ing hu­man rights, a cause that has re­mained close to her heart since she joined the UN. Orig­i­nally from On­tario, Case spent four years liv­ing and work­ing in the world’s war zones, from South Su­dan to Gaza. Now based in Cha­monix, France, she works for the

Stephanie Case af­ter cross­ing the fin­ish line of the Wester States 100mile en­durance run sub 24hrs

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