I am Zahra, a senior Biochem student at Hobart and Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. I am running the NYC Half Marathon in support of Free to Run because for me, a girl growing up in Kunduz, Afghanistan, the possibility of playing sport was not much of an option. However, at age 10, my older sister signed me up my first running race and convinced my dad to let me run. When I heard her say, “the top 10 win a bike” I started dreaming…
I put my game face on. I needed to train and win that bike. I woke up by the call for morning prayer and trained in my flip-flops. When race day arrived, wearing a black school uniform, flip-flops, and a white scarf, I stood behind the starting line with one image in my head: me on my orange bike showing it off to the soccer boys. I didn’t know how to ride a bike, but that didn’t matter much to me. Nothing could stand between me and that orange bike; sore body, no running shoes, no training – none of that could stop me. Running fast didn’t feel amazing, but winning that orange bike sure did.
I walked my bike home, calculating that I had maybe one year to ride it before I would be told that as a girl I was old to ride bikes. Sadly, that was not the case. When I arrived home, my family took one look at the bike and said I was too old to use it. All because I was a girl.
My bright orange bike hung in the ceiling of our kitchen, the smoke from my mom’s cooking fading its beautiful color. Often I sat next to mom as she flamed the fire; I’d cry a bit as I stared at the bike I never got to ride. My mom would hug me and she sometimes would cry too.
Fast forward to 2015, studying in the US, I started running again. I ran my first half marathon in Berkshire, MA as part of Free to Run. Ever since, I have loved running and been able to complete marathons and a 50 mile ultra-marathon. Running has helped me overcome my fears and helped me cope with living in America so far from my family.
Now I am an ambassador for Free to Run and last summer I had the chance to visit the Free to Run office in Kabul, Afghanistan. I am often asked why we focus on such a small problem like sports opportunities for girls instead of worrying about other issues like bomb explosions, honor killings, the unemployment rate, and many more. But I strongly believe in the mission of Free to Run because in a country where women are treated as second class citizens, overtime they lose any bit of confident that they were born with. But allowing them to join the program at Free to Run gives Afghan women space to focus on themselves for that one hour that they are outside, either hiking, or running. It will have a huge impact on society in the long run. Gaining confidence and experiencing outdoors will allow women to take ownership in spaces that have been men dominated.
Please donate to my fundraiser to help bring running, hiking, and maybe even orange bicycles to women in Afghanistan.