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20 Women Who Are Changing The Sport Of Running (And The World)

Photo courtesy of New Balance

Alison Désir

Founder, Harlem Run
New York, NY

Every Tuesday at 7 p.m., Alison Désir stood outside of a yoga studio in Harlem, hoping that someone—anyone—would show up. The Harlem resident was trying to start a running club in order to share the sport she loved with others in her community. Désir diligently posted on and Instagram—but ultimately, each night, after waiting for 20 minutes, she would head out for a run alone. “I would just stand there crying on the phone with my mom,” Désir remembers. “She would tell me, ‘It’s not you! Just wait.’”

Désir stuck it out for 12 weeks, until finally, one night, another woman arrived. That was in 2014, and now, thanks to Désir’s persistence, Harlem Run has blossomed, regularly welcoming up to 200 people per group run.

The club’s founder says she works toward three objectives: providing people with the support to start (“we welcome all abilities, all ages”); creating more diversity in the sport (“as a woman of color, it is important for me”); and encouraging a healthy lifestyle where she lives (“Harlem has really high obesity rates, high blood pressure—all of those preventable diseases”). She has achieved these goals and more. This year, the club’s race, The Harlem 1-Miler, raised $10,000 for Harlem United, a nonprofit supporting the homeless and those affected by HIV/AIDS.

Despite all of the hard-earned achievements, one unexpected outcome is what Désir treasures most: “What I didn’t realize is that it could become a family.” In 2017, she hopes the group will expand with other chapters around the United States, focusing on cities where fitness is a challenge. Désir explains, “It’s such an empowering experience to do something you never thought you could do—and it makes you keep pushing for more.” –JS

Tatyana McFadden

Photo by Deborah McFadden

Photo by Deborah McFadden

Professional Athlete
Clarksville, MD

With her aptitude for winning medals (in both running and Nordic skiing) and breaking marathon records, Tatyana McFadden’s disability is merely a footnote to her physical prowess. Born with spina bifida and paralyzed from the waist down, McFadden spent six years in a Russian orphanage until she was adopted by an American family.

After she moved to the U.S., McFadden’s mother got her involved in sports to help her build strength and transition to her new life. After trying wheelchair basketball, swimming, scuba diving and ice hockey, she realized endurance racing was her favorite. When asked what made the difference for her, she says it was realizing this: “You have the power to be anything you want to be.”

McFadden has won the women’s wheelchair marathon grand slam (Boston, London, Chicago and New York) three years in a row—making her by far the most dominant marathoner in the world. She’s on track to do it again in 2016 and also went to the Paralympics in Rio. When McFadden isn’t competing, she’s an advocate for the rights of disabled athletes and volunteers with Right to Play, a program that uses sports and games to help disadvantaged children. She also recently authored a book about perseverance, optimism and overcoming obstacles, entitled Ya Sama! Moments From My Life. –AP

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