Profile: Drew Peterson, Goldman Sachs Vice President and US Veteran, Runs to Promote Women’s Rights in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, sports are largely off-limits to women and girls. Drew Peterson, an Air Force vet who served two tours in Afghanistan before he joined Goldman Sachs in 2014, ran with local Afghan women in the country’s second-ever marathon earlier this month. 

On one of his two military tours in Afghanistan, Drew Peterson, a vice president in Goldman Sachs’ Technology Division in New York, witnessed a woman serving a prison sentence of lifetime solitary confinement for having been the victim of rape, which is considered a crime in that country.

“It was very depressing,” said Drew, who joined Goldman Sachs through the Veterans Integration Program (VIP) in 2014. “Women have no rights there. It really hit home to see just how much improvement still needs to happen over there.”

That haunting memory, along with a desire to promote women’s rights in the war-torn country, inspired Drew to run in Afghanistan’s second-ever marathon, the Marathon of Afghanistan, on November 4. He participated in the marathon by working with Free to Run, a nonprofit group that aims to empower women and girls through sport in conflict-affected regions.

Drew was one of a handful of foreigners from the US, UK, Russia, the Netherlands and other countries, who participated in the marathon by raising money for charities and running alongside the dozen local Afghan women and girls who ran the full marathon (another 100 women and girls ran a 10K race).

“For Afghan women and girls, doing any physical fitness or following their passions is really frowned upon,” Drew said. “Fitness and running are a statement that women can pursue anything they want.” 

The marathon itself took place in Bamiyan, a desert region with an elevation of about 10,000 feet. The course itself was “brutal” because of the altitude and uphill terrain. “You’re running up eight stories per mile for the first half,” described Drew running his first 26.2-mile marathon — although he has previously run three ultramarathons. Although 60 or so people had started out the race, about one-third of them dropped out. In addition, there was a strong presence of armed Afghan police along the course to protect the runners.

Starting a New Chapter

Including his time at the Air Force Academy, Drew spent 2004 to 2014 in the military. It was on his second tour in Afghanistan where Drew learned about the Goldman Sachs VIP from a friend in the service and decided to apply. “I was done living in a tent,” he said. “I felt like I had checked this box in my life and wanted to move on.” So, while sitting on a tarmac underneath a tent in 2013, he completed his application to VIP, was accepted and started in April 2014.

In adjusting to civilian life, Drew said one of his biggest challenges was to find that sense of purpose that he and others felt so strongly while in the military. “I have a strong personal connection to Afghanistan,” Drew said. “The people over there are amazing and are incredibly thankful for the American support. People tend to get so caught up in the macro and political discussions in the region, but the average person in Afghanistan just wants to have a decent life, to raise a family and be safe.” 

Earlier this year, Drew started his own 501(c)(3), called Mortales, which is focused on partnering with companies to provide goods and services to war-torn countries. For Mortales’ first mission, he’s planning to fly to the Ukraine with his brother later this month where they will embed with the Ukrainian army and visit two refugee camps at the front lines to provide food and shelter. He’s currently working with a satellite company to provide internet access for the camps.

How does he balance it all? “I just try to get up really early every day, exercise, be productive at work and do something meaningful during the day. I try to go to bed every day a better person than I woke up.”