Forget sitting in traffic on the way to the Women’s March on Washington over Inauguration weekend — Alison Mariella Désir is running her way from New York City to DC, all in support of Planned Parenthood.
“I felt like, this is crazy, but I should run from New York to DC for Planned Parenthood, because of the threat of it being defunded,” Désir, 31, tells PEOPLE. “It was so crazy that I was almost afraid to tell people about it, but I called my best friend and she immediately was like, ‘Yes, let’s do it.’ ”
While running 240 miles is a large undertaking, it made sense for Désir, who founded the running group Harlem Runs in her hometown of Harlem, New York, and long turned to the sport in tough times.
“I was thinking about what’s really important to me, and the ways that I’ve built community over the past few years, and for me that’s running,” she explains. “Running for me is really meaningful because I started running distance in 2012 after going through a period of depression. So running has always been a transformational experience for me.”
“When I was in high school my class went on a trip to Spain, and one of the women I was with was raped while we were there, and when we got back, the only thing we knew of to do was Planned Parenthood,” Désir says. “If Planned Parenthood hadn’t been there, I don’t know what we would’ve done.”
“And it’s not just [necessary for] instances of rape. Planned Parenthood is such an important resource for people — I knew that was always the intended cause.”
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Two more of Désir’s friends signed on to join her, and the four of them came up with a plan to split the mileage to DC in time for the Women’s March. Désir also set up a GoFundMe page with the goal of raising $44,000 — 44 in honor of Barack Obama, the 44th president.
But the run quickly garnered attention from other women and men looking for a way to support Planned Parenthood, and hundreds of people signed on to join Désir and her friends along the course. Meanwhile, the funding surged, and as of Jan. 13, they’ve exceed their goal with over $56,700 in donations.
“I’ve really just been amazed at what’s happened,” she says. “The fundraising was going to be the tough part, and so many women have reached out that we’ve created this amazing relay run where we pick people up along the way.”
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Désir says she’s “nervous and excited” to start the run Jan. 18, but she’s thrilled about how her goal speaks to the strength of women.
“So many people try to tell us what we can and cannot do with our bodies,” she says. “The physical act of running not only shows the control and the power of your body, but the control and the power of your mind. On so many levels, it’s a message of: We can do this.”