Today on Sports Up Podcast, I was planning to interview Marina LeGree, the founder and Executive Director of Ascend.  Ascend is a nonprofit dedicated to helping Afghan girls reach their potential through athletic-based leadership centered on mountain climbing.  This morning, Marina sent me a message to reschedule as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had just fled the country following the Taliban takeover of Kabul.   Many of the Ascend girls are attempting to flee to the airport.  I pray for the safety of these courageous girls and all the women and girls remaining in Afghanistan during this terrifying time.  Ascend has launched an emergency fundraising appeal to help protect its staff and others in Kabul.  You can donate at

With today’s headlines, I am remembering how I first became aware of events in Afghanistan.  When I was eleven years old, I had the incredible opportunity to see President Ghani address a Joint Session of Congress in Washington, D.C.  My host explained what a momentous occasion it was so I paid close attention to what the President had to say.  What I remember most, is how he described the advances being made for Afghan women and girls and how they were thriving.  It was hard for me to understand that just a few years earlier, Afghan women were treated as property and not even permitted to go to school.  I’m sure twenty years ago, it would have been impossible for girls to have opportunities to test their physical and intellectual capabilities through athletic leadership organizations like Ascend.

I heard a report on the news today that the Taliban has ordered local religious leaders to provide them with a list of girls 15 and older and widows under 45 so they can be married off to Taliban soldiers.  Think about that for a moment.  Afghan girls who are 21 and under have grown up in a society where they were allowed to go to school, work, and pursue their dreams.  They grew up with the promise of a modern society and certainly with no expectation that they would be married against their will to a Taliban soldier.  Many of them are the first girls in their families to go to college or compete in sports.  Now, it looks like the opportunity of the modern world will be ripped away.  We should all mourn their imminent loss of freedom and pray for the safety of these girls.

What a contrast all this is to just a few weeks ago when Afghan Olympic sprinter Kamia Yousufi carried the flag alongside her male teammate Farzad Manzouri.  Will we ever see a Kamia competing again?  Not if the Taliban can help it.  But there is hope.  Organizations like Ascend are continuing the fight for women’s rights in Afghanistan.  Please help them in their efforts and donate so Afghan girls continue to thrive rather than just survive.

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