Meet Desiree Peterkin Bell: The Woman Changing the Face of Marathon Race Directors

Meet Desiree Peterkin Bell: The Woman Changing the Face of Marathon Race Directors

Desiree Peterkin Bell is a triple threat in life and business. As the race director of the GORE-TEX Philadelphia Marathon, she’s one of a few black Americans to lead a major marathon.

Additionally, as the director of communications and strategy, and the city representative, she holds the only designated city position to represent Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter; internationally, nationally, and locally.

[Related: Celebrate National Running Day by Joining 3 African American Running Clubs]

Bell, recognized as a strategic planner, consummate communicator and political strategist, holds a master’s in public policy from the National Urban Fellows Program and has served at various levels of politics and government for over 15 years. She’s served four mayors: Bart Peterson, Indianapolis; Michael R. Bloomberg NYC; Cory A. Booker, Newark, NJ; and Michael Nutter, Philadelphia, PA. She was also the senior adviser for Obama for America, helping to craft and lead the successful re-election bid for President Barack Obama in Pennsylvania.

With the GORE-TEX Philadelphia Marathon scheduled to take place on November 22, 2015, caught up with the five-time NCAA All-American in track and field to get a few marathon training tips and delve more into her background. Female race directors are few and far between. What is the most important quality that a woman needs to be successful in a male-dominated industry?

Bell: We put our pants on just like everybody else, one leg at a time. Women in this position and other leadership positions just need to know that they are just as qualified to lead.

There’s a perception that there are not a lot of African Americans involved in running marathons. In fact, Running USA’s bi-annual National Runner Survey revealed that only 1.6% of marathon runners in America are African American, compared with 90% of Caucasians, 5.1% of Hispanics and 3.9% of Asian/Pacific Islanders. If you agree, what in your opinion can be done to change the perception?

Thanks to Black Girls RUN!, Black Men Run, Men Run Deez Streets, Run2Live and others, the tide is changing. As USA Today reported, let’s consider the statistics:

  • Members of the National Black Marathoners Association, a group based in Dallas, Texas, have increased from 1,200 in 2010 to 3,600 this year.
  • Black Girls RUN! a national organization that promotes fitness among black women, started from a 2011 lunch of 15-20 in Atlanta, Georgia, now says it has 150,000 active members.
  • Black Men Run, a national organization not affiliated with Black Girls RUN!, started out with four or five men meeting in Atlanta’s Grant Park in 2013, and now says it has 6,000 members.
  • New York Road Runners says that between 2012 and 2014, women registering for races as Black Girls RUN! members grew from 915 to 2,501. Men registering as Black Men Run members grew from 8 to 148.

What does it take to plan a marathon?
Discipline, steadiness, focus, drive, and a great team. I work with a number of talented individuals who all come together to ensure the best possible experience for our participants. From the opening of our Health & Fitness Expo to our last participant crossing the finish line.
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