Named by Women’s Running as one of twenty women who are changing the sport of running and the world, Alison Désir is an endurance athlete, activist, mental health advocate and HOKA ambassador.  Alison is the founder of Harlem Run (an NYC-based running movement), Run 4 All Women  (an initiative that has raised over $150,000 for Planned Parenthood), and the Global Womxn Run Collective (an organization that empowers womxn leaders globally that are not given a seat at the table). We’ve partnered with Alison and her Meaning Thru Movement Tour, a nationwide series of events designed to bring the conversation about mental health and well being into the running and fitness space. We asked Alison to share more about herself, this tour and why it’s so impactful.

📸Amir Figueroa (@amirmfigueroa)

Growing up, I was very fortunate to have parents who introduced me to sports at an early age and supported me in running, soccer, basketball, gymnastics (to name a few!) As a first generation American, my parents did their best to afford me every opportunity they did not have in their respective countries of origin. My mother, in particular, was always so proud of me and reminded me that when she was growing up in Colombia, she couldn’t even leave the house without her brother as a chaperone let alone assert herself through sports. Having this perspective growing up was refreshing because it showed me how much things can change for the better from one generation to the next when you are intentional.

Very early on, my father gave me the nickname “powdered feet,” a Haitian Kreyol nickname which describes somebody so active that you never see them, just the footprints of where they’ve been in powder. This nickname has truly come to define me and my personality. In middle school, I made it to the Junior Olympics in the 80-meter hurdles, and in high school I focused on the 400m and 400m hurdles, regularly setting and shattering records at my school. However, it wasn’t until 2012 that I ran my first marathon after going through a period of depression and seeing how a friend of mine’s life changed for the better through his own marathon training. So I started running distance for my mental health and have since created several communities (Harlem Run, Run 4 All Women, and Global Womxn Run Collective) that give people the opportunity to connect with others, feel part of something bigger than themselves, and create social change. During this same time period, I also went back to Columbia University to earn my masters degree in counseling psychology and spent some time practicing as a therapist while pursuing my license until being a mother took priority.

📸Amir Figueroa (@amirmfigueroa)

The Meaning Thru Movement (MTM) tour is a nationwide series of events designed to bring the conversation about mental health and wellbeing into the running and fitness space. I see the MTM tour as the culmination of all of my work as a fitness advocate, mental health professional and community activist. Running made such an impact on my life – to be honest it saved my life – and led me on this path, and I feel it’s really my imperative to share what I’ve learned with other people. I’m very excited that this tour is free, making it accessible to communities across the United States, and hopefully providing an opportunity to normalize conversations around mental health, particularly in communities of color.

So what can you expect? Each tour stop will feature some combination of the following components:

  • 1:1 Conversation with a Mental Health Expert: Topics include therapy in marginalized communities, normalizing mental health, improving health seeking behavior, holistic wellness
  • Therapy Consultations with Local Practitioners: These consults will be optional for participants and will be scheduled prior to the event
  • Movement through Yoga or 5k Run: These activities will be designed with the novice in mind so that they are accessible to people of varying abilities
  • Meditation and Journaling: By combining meditation and journaling, participants will be able to broaden their awareness and access deeper levels of understanding

2020 tour stops for the MTM tour include NYC (5/30), Santa Cruz (7/11), Detroit (7/18), NYC (8/23), with Boston and Austin stops to be scheduled for early fall. In each city, I’ll be working with incredible local practitioners who have also dedicated their lives to the wellness of their community members; click HERE to see the growing list. I really hope that this tour is just the start of making conversations about mental health as commonplace as heading out for a run is for so many people.

As I reflect on being able to produce a tour like this – I think about how, eight years ago, I NEVER would’ve thought any of this would be possible. Getting to this point was really a series of smaller steps building upon each other and seizing and creating opportunities through connections with people I met along the way. For anyone reading this who wants to make an impact and start their own movement, I would say that the most important thing is to understand your why. Your why is your reason for being and what you will return to when things get really difficult or you don’t see or feel like you’re making any “progress”. Your why will also help you make decisions about what you say yes or no to (think: is this in line with my “why”? Does this align with my values?). Once you have your why in place, just start. Don’t wait until you have every question answered, perfect marketing materials, etc., because to be honest, if you wait for all of that, you may never take action!