Oiselle's Alison Désir on the Wage Gap in Sports and History of the NYC Marathon
Named by Women's Running as one of the "Power Women of 2021," Alison Mariella Désir is an endurance athlete, activist and mental health advocate. Alison is the founder of Harlem Run, Run 4 All Women and co-chair of Running Industry Diversity Coalition. Alison is currently working on a book, The Unbearable Whiteness of Running, coming out in October 2022. She is also the director of sports advocacy as well as an athlete advisor for Oiselle.
Alison's nickname—powdered feet—comes from the Haitian Kreyol saying that describes a person so active that you never see them, just the footprints of where they've been in powder. She holds her BA in history, MA in Latin American and Caribbean regional studies, and EdM in counseling psychology, all from Columbia University.
We spoke to Alison for our Time-Out series, where we chat with folks in the sports world about their favorite athletes, teams, sports movies and shows, and their love of sports generally.
Alison, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey, and now I live in Seattle with my partner Amir M. Figueroa and my 2-year-old son, Kouri Henri.
Your earliest sports memory.
I remember playing youth soccer—it was a coed team and I was always faster than the boys. I must've only been 4 or 5 years old and I loved the team aspect of it.
Your favorite sports team(s).
Your favorite athlete(s).
Your favorite sports show or podcast.
Burn It All Down podcast.
Your favorite sports movie and/or video game.
I can't tell you the number of times I've watched A League of Their Own! So good. And more recently, Race.
A recent project you're proud of.
I just finished hosting a pop-up event for the New York City Marathon called Harlem Run House. The six-day event series featured runs, vendors, recovery and a panel—Harlem Set the Blueprint—that set the story straight on the origins of the NYC marathon.
The running community we know and love today is thanks to the vision and commitment of three Black men in Harlem. The New York Pioneer Club (NYPC)—founded in 1936 by Robert L. Douglas, William Culbreath and Joseph J. Yancey—was a track club for Harlem citizens who had neither the funds nor expertise to join one of the city's competitive teams. America's first large scale multiracial athletic club, it was open to any young man who wanted to join—a full decade before the integration of professional sports in the USA in 1947 with Jackie Robinson. The NYPC's diverse and inclusive atmosphere set the blueprint for New York Road Runners (NYRR). In fact, NYRR and the New York City Marathon are a gift to the world from New York City's Black community and the New York Pioneer Club of Harlem.
Someone else's project that you admired recently.
I loved Michelob Ultra's "Save It See It" campaign, which brought visibility to the huge disparities in opportunities/coverage/funding in women's sports. The gender wage gap in sports—and all industries—is unacceptable, so I was thankful to see this important campaign come to life.
What sports can do that nothing else can.
Sports can serve as a beautiful example of how important struggle and discomfort are to achieve our goals! Even if you're a talented athlete, success does not come easy. You will have as many—if not more—bad days than good ones and the breakthroughs only come if you continue to move through it. Sports teaches you that no win is achieved alone—it's all about teamwork. Even in individual sports, no athlete can be successful without a coach.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the sports world.
I think that I'd either be a therapist or a history professor. I have my masters in counseling psychology from Columbia University and incorporate feminist psychology into everything that I do. I am also always thinking about how history informs the present. Okay, and one more. If I could be a sports agent specifically for Black women athletes—I'd do that in a second! Black women deserve to be centered and celebrated more on and off the field.