Learning to Run: An Afghan Expat’s Story

On September 19, 2015, the Berkshire Ultra Running Community for Service (BURCS) is hosting the Free to Run Trail Races in Pittsfield, MA, consisting of a 50 miler, a marathon and a half marathon… and all in support of Free to Run!  What is even more exciting is that some budding Afghan athletes who are currently living in the US have decided to sign up for the half marathon, along with the Chair of the Free to Run Board, Connie Schneider. This post is written by a young woman named Zahra, who grew up in Afghanistan and is currently studying in the United States. The Free to Run race will be her first half marathon.

**This post originally appeared on the Free to Run blog**

Growing up in Kunduz, Afghanistan, sport wasn’t part of my life at all. Even though my favorite sport was soccer and my favorite player was Ronaldo, I never dared to play soccer outside. Instead, I fought for TV hours to watch the game once or twice every year. After all, I didn’t have much time to think of sport considering the security situation in Kunduz and being a girl in that society.

At the age of 10 my sister and I signed up for a 3 KM race that was sponsored by Bayat Foundation and Afghan Wireless company. It was hold in Takhar providence. To be honest, my only motivation behind participating was to win a bicycle that they gave for the first 10 finishers. Two days before the race, my older sister found a warm up exercise that we could do. Every early morning, my sister and I ran down our alley with our flip-flops. We both knew nothing about running in general. However, we were extremely proud of ourselves for running half a kilometer every morning. By the day of race, I could barely move my legs, but I was still determined to win the bicycle and ride it at least once before society took that right away from me.

The race seemed terribly long. My runs from the week before not only didn’t prepare me for the race, but also they made me sorer. I finished the race and earned the 6th position. Even though I never got the chance to ride the bicycle, it still made me happy to look at it as it was hanging from the ceiling of our kitchen and was covered from the smoke of my mother’s cooking.

Sometime after that, I moved to the United States for school, where I was required to play sport. I played Junior Varsity basketball for the first time, but I slept for straight 2 hours after the practice. The phrase of not being fit was added to my vocabulary as I discovered I wasn’t fit at all. Since sophomore year, I have played ice hockey, lacrosse, and basketball and all of them in some way required a level of fitness and being able to run. During fall season of my senior year, I literally forced myself to be part of cross country team of our school. As predicted, the first week was extremely challenging. After a while, I learned to enjoy running in races and even on Sundays. I was awarded the athlete of the week after a home race where I improved my time by 50 seconds. As the cross country season ended, my patience for cross country remained. Currently, I am training for a half marathon in September of 2015 in order to support Free to Run; the organization supports women in developing countries to run.

zahraI started running because it constantly reminds me of the privileges and opportunities that I have and it truly makes me appreciate having the freedom to put on my shoes and run.
I run because I am part of a small percentage of Afghan women who have the opportunity to run.

As I am struggling to train for my first half or possibly full marathon, all I want to achieve is to be able to cross the finish line. However, in long run I would like running to be my habit. I might be day-dreaming or aiming way too high, but I want to be able to run one of the 4 Deserts ultra-running events [like Team Asma’i].

I am also aiming to be able to run for the organizations that encourage women to run.
The first time I ever participated in any kind of sports was because I wanted to win the bicycle prize. Throughout my three years of high school in the States, I did sport because it was part of curriculum of the school. Those years taught me the importance of sport and a nation who plays sports. Playing sport is empowering and rewarding. I truly believe that it boosts the confidence of every individual. In the long run, a nation who play sport will be healthier.

For more information about the Free to Run Trail Races, please visit http://freetoruntrailraces.com/racedetails/ or contact us at info@freetorun.org. All proceeds will go towards our programs, thanks to BURCS!

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Categories: Musings about life

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3 Comments »

  1. I hope that Zahra is doing well, and that she is still running for herself and for these amazing causes. This story is so sad and so inspirational at the same time. I really hope she has a chance of riding a bicycle now that she is in the US! Thank you for sharing this post!

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