As a child, Zahra's family moved from place to place, fleeing the Taliban. Growing up she would weave carpets to help support her family while going to school full time.
She knew from a young age that with few resources to help her succeed, she would need to create opportunity for herself, so she studied hard and became the first female in her family to graduate from high school. She didn't stop there: Zahra went on to earn a degree at Kabul University and started working shortly after graduation. It was during this time that a friend showed her photos on Instagram of girls doing outdoor activities with Free to Run. She had never heard of girls running in Afghanistan! She knew she had to be a part of it and quickly applied for the program.
"With Free to Run, I discovered newfound purpose. I felt happy again, and was motivated both at work and at home," says Zahra. She went on to run two marathons and a half Ironman in Dubai.
Zahra travelled to the United States as a Fulbright scholar to earn her Masters In Finance. She now works in New Hampshire as a finance counsellor, but her dream is to return to Afghanistan to help other women open businesses.
Zeinab grew up in Iran during the Taliban, eventually moving to Kabul where she was able to attend university. It was a stressful time, navigating a new city, working full time and living away from her family. That's when she discovered Free to Run through her peers. She quickly applied, excited for the prospect of being able to participate in sports that, up until that point, didn't seem possible for girls like her in Afghanistan.
It proved to be a launching pad for her to manage the intensity of her busy life while creating deliberate space for personal self-discovery and reflection. She continued to take advantage of every opportunity Free to Run offered, running three marathons, and more recently, completing a half Ironman. She says her time within the program taught her so much about herself, helping her explore and push her limits and challenging her notion of how powerful a female should and could be.
Zeinab also moved to the States to earn her MBA. She wants to continue showing what women from conflict countries can accomplish in running and dreams of returning to Afghanistan to apply her new skills and continue engaging with sport and female empowerment.
Stephanie is a Canadian human rights attorney who's spent the better part of her career in conflict zones defending innocent civilians. From South Sudan to Afghanistan, Stephanie has lived in some of the most war-torn areas on earth, witnessing and fighting against the inequalities of war, especially for women. As an avid runner, and a UN human rights attorney, Stephanie saw a way to leverage her life passions to help women in these hard-hit communities experience basic freedoms. From this vision, 'Free to Run' was born.
Her charity leverages running as a tool to further the fight for equality for women in Afghanistan and Iraq. She has competed in some of the hardest ultra-trail marathons in the world, from Western States ® 100-Mile Endurance Run, to winning Tor des Glaciers in 2021 and placing top three women at the Hardrock 100 in 2022. She now works in Jerusalem for the UN supporting the protection of refugees across the region.