On September 10th, 2021, Stephanie Case stepped up to the starting line of one of the most gruelling ultra-distance races in the world: TOR450.
155 hours later, with just 4.5 hours sleep and 450km and 32,000m+ elevation behind her, Stephanie took third place overall, shattering the women’s course record by 30 hours and cementing her place as truly great ultra-athlete.
Yet, Stephanie wasn’t running just for herself, she was running for a much bigger cause and following her purpose.
Stephanie is a human rights lawyer, ultra-trail runner and founder of the ‘Free to Run’ organization. She has taken on some of the world’s most challenging trails and broken numerous records.
In 2014, Stephanie founded the not-for-profit organization ‘Free to Run’ whose mission is to enable women and girls to safely and boldly engage in outdoor activity. The organization focuses on using sport as a tool for empowerment and education – helping transform the lives of thousands of women and girls in conflict-affected regions.
Along with her own race preparations for the TOR450, Stephanie was working behind the scenes with Free to Run to organize a women-led, women-run expedition in Afghanistan.
With preparation in full swing, The North Face came on-board to support a documentary of Free to Run’s mission and tell the stories of women using sport to transform the world around them.
These women include Zeinab and Zahra, two women who represent the spirit of so many other women in Afghanistan who believe in education and progress.
Despite balancing her degree with a job to help fund her studies, Zeinab found Free to Run sessions an invaluable way to stay motivated and push her out of her comfort zone. She found the strength to take on not only multiple marathons, but also challenge the status quo, changing perceptions of what women can do in her home country.
For Zahra, her dream of helping to improve the lives of women in Afghanistan begins with education. The first female in her family to graduate from high school, Zahra went on to complete a degree in business and economics and found Free To Run gave her a new perspective, connecting her with others and helping her to explore the world around her.
For Zahra and Zeinab, Free to Run provided opportunities for them to not only develop their own skills, but crucially support other Afghan women to do the same.
Then, with the world watching, the Taliban started to regain control of the country. By August 15th, Kabul had fallen and Stephanie and the Free to Run board members immediately shifted focus to evacuate the team from the country.
After nearly 10 years of progress, the organisation and thousands of women and girls looked ahead at a dangerously uncertain future.
At this moment of such uncertainty, fear and sadness, Stephanie found resolve to take on TOR450, not only for herself,
but to inspire women everywhere.
For Stephanie, her third-place finish at TOR450 is just another step on her journey, as she follows her purpose and works to find new ways for Free to Run to continue its life-changing work.
“Operating in impossible situations is part of the DNA of Free to Run - and any ultrarunner, for that matter. We will continue to support female leaders in areas of conflict, every step of the way”
To read more about Free to Run and Support their journey, check out their website freetorun.org