Afghan student feels “Free to Run” in Spartanburg, at Wofford

By: Sarah Madden, Senior Writer

Last names have been redacted for security reasons.

“I have a dream that one day I’ll set Afghanistan’s national record.”

Farahnaz A.,’18, recently travelled to Massachusetts and ran her first half marathon in support of an organization called Free to Run, a nonprofit organization that believes that everyone deserves the freedom to run, play and experience the outdoors, especially women and children.

“Free to Run provides the opportunities for girls in conflicted areas around the world like Afghanistan to be able to run, [pursue] physical fitness and experience outdoor adventures,” she says.

For Farahnaz, this is personal. She grew up in Afghanistan and was not able to do any kind of exercise or spend time outdoors, and walking to school was difficult because boys made fun of her height – her long legs which she now appreciates.

“When I was growing up, my parents always told me, ‘We are born free, and we will die free, so never let anyone discourage you from reaching your dreams or force you into doing things you don’t want to do.’ Unfortunately, that was not the case for girls in Afghanistan,” she says. “I am very thankful to Wofford College and the Bonner Scholars program for providing me with the opportunities to reach my goals and understand th real meaning of being a free human being. I think the freedom Wofford gave me inspired me to become a runner.”

While Farahnaz says she realized her first year at Wofford that no one would “bother her” if she ran on and around campus, her three-mile runs every other day turned into serious training this past summer with the help of her long-distance coach.

“Coach Annie Paredes lives in Massachusetts and is a runner as well. She is kind, loving, has a beautiful heart and is a wonderful trainer. Everyday, she texted me directions, like‘run 55 minutes today,’ and after every run or cross training I would let her know. She always cheered for me and encouraged me to keep going.”

Farahnaz says that the trail she ran in Massachusetts was “challenging,” but that the act of running without harassment – without being judged by her clothing or her gender – was a happy moment. She feels this freedom in Spartanburg as well as she often runs throughout Spartanburg.

“Sometimes I see people look at me like I am ‘crazy’ running in long sleeves, long leggings, and a scarf on my head. But their looks never discourage me – instead, I consider myself a hero for running in hot weather and supporting Free to Run… I think of their looks as compliments.”

Several friends came to support Farahnaz in her endeavor, she says. Her American host family lives in Vermont and travelled to see her race, her host father holding up the Afghan flag in support. She ran with her friend Zahra A., also from Afghanistan, and her coach. Farahnaz says she never stopped at the aid station, and one of the organizers of the race noticed.

“Though mentally I was feeling tired, my legs and my heart told me to keep going because of the flag of Afghanistan I saw in my host dad’s hand. Particularly, the color green in the flag reminded me that we, the new generation, are going to change the history of Afghanistan,” she says. “I will keep running towards development and change. I have hopes for a better Afghanistan, where women and girls can run as freely as I am running in the U.S. and around Wofford.”

Farahnaz says that Free to Run has not only impacted her actual running goals, but has inspired her to use running to bring positive changes to other girls’ lives in areas around the world like Afghanistan.

“I run because I want to show that women are powerful and capable of doing sports. I run for the Afghan women who, 14 years after the fall of the Taliban, are still not allowed to leave their houses because of traditions and conservative attitudes.”

Currently, Farahnaz says she is training herself for speed running, and will participate in the Charleston half-marathon in January. She hopes to run a full marathon in Vermont in May. All of these goals, of course, lead to the goal of setting Afghanistan’s record. In all of this, running is about more than physical fitness and competition.

“I run because I am free.”


4th Place Feature Story winner in the SCPA 2015 Collegiate News Contest.
4th Place Feature Story winner in the SCPA 2015 Collegiate News Contest.

Sarah Madden

Sarah is a Wofford College student studying English and environmental studies. She is a Senior Writer for the Old Gold & Black newspaper and also an intern with the Wofford Office of Marketing and Communications. Sarah is a PATH Int'l Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor at HALTER in Spartanburg, SC. She is also on the Wofford College Equestrian Team and in her spare time, enjoys playing with and riding her horse, Dancer.

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