In Memory of Emilia Brangefält

A dedication to Swedish trail runner Emilia Brangefält, who passed away in November 2023.

By on December 21, 2023 | Comments

[Editor’s Note: Please note that this article mentions suicide. If you or someone you know needs help, use this list of resources to connect with experts near you.]

In November of 2023, the sport of trail running lost one of its most promising rising stars, and the world lost a vibrant and exuberant young woman, who quickly made an impression on those who were lucky enough to meet her.

The running journey of Sweden’s Emilia Brangefält had only begun four years prior, and already she had racked up achievements many talented runners could only dream of in a lifetime, including placing third in the 2022 Trail World Championships 40k in Thailand. The then 20-year-old was the youngest competitor in the race.

In an effort to celebrate her short but impactful life, we share the words of Emilia’s teammates and friends.

Emilia Brangefält (right) on the podium, having taken third place in the 2022 Trail World Championships 40k.

Emilia Brangefält (right) on the podium, having taken third place in the 2022 Trail World Championships 40k. Photo: Marco Gulberti/Corsa in Montagna

Emilia Brangefält came from Västerås, in the flatter part of southern Sweden, and practiced cross-country skiing. She also engaged in orienteering, although she was more drawn to the running aspect of the sport than the map reading. She practiced a variety of sports as a youth, but turned her attention to running in 2019.

Having started out with more traditional running, before long she found the trails, and discovered her great gift. Swedish teammate and friend, Johanna Gelfgren, shared that she was, “The best uphill runner I’ve seen.”

Gelfgren first met Brangefält at the inaugural Swedish National Championships in 2021. She shared: “I hadn’t seen her at any races before, and I was like, ‘Who is this young girl?’ She finished third and I was first, so we shared the podium, but we only said ‘hi.’”

The two were to meet again in 2022, when Brangefält was chosen to represent Sweden at the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Thailand, and Gelfgren was assigned as her roommate. Gelfgren recalls, “We talked a bit before, and we met on some smaller competitions here in Sweden. And then when we came to Thailand it was like I was her big sister. I was born in 1998, and she was born in 2002. She always asked me about everything, and we got to know each other really well, as I guess you do when you live and do everything together.”

Swedish ultrarunner Ida Nilsson recalls the first day she spoke with the young Emilia Brangefält, at the 2022 Fjällmaraton, where they finished first and second: “I was running [in the lead] and there was this young girl. And I was like, ‘Okay, she’s close.’ And then I’d think, ‘Okay now I have a gap.’ And then I would turn around and she’s there again! It was like that the whole race, she wouldn’t give up. And then in the finish it was really close. We talked after the race, and I was just so impressed with how much she’d improved in one year. It was a really great breakthrough race for her in Sweden.” The year previous, Brangefält had placed fourth in the same race, and had carved some 28 minutes off her time on the second attempt.

Following Fjällmaraton, Brangefält was selected to run in Thailand, where she exceeded all expectations, placing third in her first major international competition.

Team Sweden women - 2022 Trail and Mountain Running World Championships

Team Sweden women at the 2022 World Mountain and Trail Running Championships (l-to-r): Sanna El Kott Helander, Johanna Gelfgren, Lina El Kott Helander, Emilia Brangefält, and Ida Nilsson. Photo courtesy of Ida Nilsson.

Nilsson, who raced the 80k distance at the championships, shared: “And that was one of the first things I remember [at the Trail World Championships], I was so tired when I finished my race, and then I found out that Emilia was third [in the 40k], and it was so amazing because she hadn’t done any international races at all. It’s all these people who are so experienced, and she was the youngest one in the field. It was really cool. And that showed she had such a strong racing mentality. She was really good at pushing herself in races.”

Gelfgren also noted, “When she took third place in Thailand it was a really big thing, in her life and also, for her team.”

Adidas Terrex and Swedish teammate, Petter Engdahl, recalls the first time he met Brangefält, in Badgastein, Austria, in September 2022 — at the Adidas Infinite Trails event, where she raced the relay. Both her bubbly personality and raw talent stood out to him.

He said, “I met her for the first time up in the mountains during the race, I was taking photos of the race and she was in the lead. I did not recognize her at first through the lens, but then she screamed something to me in Swedish, and I realized it was Emilia. I screamed something back and we talked a bit after the race. She was a big talent and enjoyed running in the mountains. She was living in a very flat part of Sweden and just coming to the Austrian Alps and running like she did was really cool and impressive to see.”

Emilia Brangefält - 2022 Adidas Infinite Trails

Emilia Brangefält racing at the 2022 Adidas Infinite Trails. Photo: Petter Engdahl

Engdahl stayed in touch with Brangefält after that first meeting, and went on to introduce her to the manager of the adidas Terrex team and help her through the process of becoming a sponsored athlete. He recalled that she had said that, “The atmosphere and team spirit of Terrex looked really nice.”

Nilsson too had advised Brangefält on different sponsorship opportunities and felt that Terrex would be a good fit for her: “The Terrex team, I had said that that might suit her as it’s a lot of young people and they have a lot of common camps and that’s good when you’re young.”

Following on from her success in Thailand, Brangefält raced the 2023 Transvulcania by UTMB 46k, where she finished a close second behind fellow adidas Terrex runner, Toni McCann. She then went on to represent Sweden again at the 2023 Trail and Mountain Running World Championships in Austria, where she took fifth in the 40k distance.

2023 Transvulcania 46k women's podium

The 2023 Transvulcania by UTMB 46k women’s podium (l-to-r): 3. Julia Font Gomez, 1. Toni McCann, and 2. Emilia Brangefält. Photo: Transvulcania by UTMB

Tragically, this was to be the last race of Brangefält’s budding career. Shortly after, she began to suffer with an undiagnosed condition, related to an elevated heart rate, which left her unable to run. After months of being unwell, and undergoing repeated tests to no avail, Brangefält found herself unable to cope, and ended her life.

Tributes have poured out on her memorial page, and the shocking events have sparked a conversation about the need for greater support for athletes and young people in general who might be struggling.

The phrase “little sister” came up again and again in the conversations with Brangefält’s teammates, indicative of the regard in which she was held, the warmth that those around her felt toward her, and the impact her loss has had. Nilsson said, “I really liked her personality, and as a young girl I felt like I wanted to help her … I hadn’t spent a lot of time with her, it was mostly in those races. But she was someone I felt strongly for and such a young person, it’s devastating.”

Emilia Brangefält at the 2023 Transvulcania 46k

Emilia Brangefält at the 2023 Transvulcania by UTMB 46k, where she placed second. Photo: Transvulcania by UTMB

Gelfgren, who also shared a room with Brangefält at the 2023 World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Austria, said: “We hadn’t met that many days if you compress it together, but it was very intense the times we did meet … She was a very happy person, she said what she thought and was stubborn — but not in a negative way — she just always knew what she wanted. Which I admired as well, because I don’t always know what I want. If she had an idea and she believed in it, then she would just go for it.” During their short friendship, Glefgren also had the opportunity to meet Brangefält’s mother, and said that she had “the most supportive family.” Engdahl too still struggles to process her loss.

In her short time as part of our sport, Emilia Brangefält touched many lives and left an enduring mark on the world around her — a bright light, quenched far too soon.

Call for Comments

  • Had you been following Emilia Brangefält’s career?
  • What are your memories of her?
  • We welcome you to use the comments section to leave your own remembrances of Emilia.

[Editor’s Note: Please ensure that your comments on this difficult topic are sensitive and respectful.]

Team Sweden - 2023 Trail and Mountain Running World Championships

Emilia Brangefält (right) in Innsbruck with Team Sweden at the 2023 World Mountain and Trail Running Championships. Photo courtesy of Johanna Gelfgren.

Sarah Brady

Sarah Brady is Managing Editor at iRunFar. She’s been working in an editorial capacity for ten years and has been a trail runner for almost as long. Aside from iRunFar, she’s worked as an editor for various educational publishers and written race previews for Apex Running, UK, and RAW Ultra, Ireland. Based in Belfast, Ireland, Sarah is an avid mountain runner and ultrarunner and competes at distances from under 10k to over 100k. When not running, she enjoys reading, socializing, and hanging out with her dog, Angie, and cat, Judy.