At 6 p.m. on Wednesday, January 18, Alison Mariella Désir, 31, will lace up her running shoes, head to 145th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem, New York, and embark on a 240-mile relay run to Washington D.C.
Désir will be joined by three other women who will wrap up their run ― the equivalent of more than nine marathons ― on Saturday, January 21, just in time to join the Women’s March On Washington.
The group’s aim is to donate $44,000 to Planned Parenthood in Barack Obama’s name.
And as of Tuesday, they were just $2,000 shy of that goal.
“After the election, I was struggling with the fact that I felt like I hadn’t done enough. I voted for Hillary, but I thought ‘What are the ways I can use the community I have to really do something?’” Désir, an entrepreneur and frequent marathon runner told The Huffington Post.
“Running has always been where I feel most powerful, so I just kind of thought, ‘What if I run to D.C. and when I get there, I join the march?’” she said. “’And what if I raise a ton of money for Planned Parenthood?’”
Désir said she likely would not have moved forward with the plan had she not called a friend, who happens to be an ultra-marathoner, who immediately and enthusiastically agreed to join. Now there are four primary runners ― all women of color ― who plan to complete the run to D.C., each running between 60 to 80 miles and taking turns sleeping in a van.
And after hearing about the plan, runners across the country have signed on to take part in what Désir laughingly described as “the world’s most complicated relay race.”
There is now a spreadsheet where people can sign up to run in four-mile increments along the route, even helping with the overnight shifts. Running groups around the country have expressed interest, and local stores have offered to donate supplies.
Désir ― a first generation American whose parents are from Haiti and Colombia ― admitted that she has been floored by the response. When she first set up a GoFundMe, she thought maybe she’d raise a few thousand dollars for Planned Parenthood, and believed the core team of four runners would run pretty much on their own. Since then, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards has tweeted her support for the run, calling it inspiring.
With a week to go, Désir doesn’t sound all that nervous about the grueling physical undertaking she has signed on for. She knows it will likely be the hardest thing she’s done, but said her sense of purpose is clear, especially with the GOP once again threatening to defund Planned Parenthood.
“For me, running has always been something that makes me feel powerful. And this march is hugely powerful, so it felt like something I could latch onto,” she said. “Men are always telling women what we should look like. The media is telling us what we should look like, and now with them threatening Planned Parenthood...” she trailed off.
“This is us using our bodies and powering our way to D.C.,” Désir said. “It’s making running a political act.”