Fifty years after a race official tried to shove her from the Boston Marathon course, Kathrine Switzer looks back on a half-century of women in the race. Switzer was mistakenly admitted to the male-only race in 1967 after she filled out the form using the initials "KV," and became the first woman to run with an official bib.
Switzer outran the Boston Marathon tradition and trampled the notion that women were too frail for a 26.2-mile race.
"No Dame Ever Ran No Marathon"
On the 50th anniversary of her landmark entry, Switzer ran again with the same number bib – 261 – that she ran with in 1967.
Kathrine SwitzerI will put on the full regalia: the bib plus the eyeliner, mascara and lipstick.
However, Switzer has maintained that she was not the first woman to run the marathon since in 1966, another woman named Roberta Gibb ran, but without a bib.
A year later, Switzer told her coach at Syracuse, Arnie Briggs, about Gibb and said she also wanted to run Boston.
His response: "No dame ever ran no marathon."
But Briggs struck a deal with her: If Switzer could complete the distance on a training run, he would bring her himself. They ran 26.2 miles together, three weeks before the race, and Switzer suggested they go five more — just to be sure. He passed out.
"And when he came to, he was so impressed," she said.
The two pored through the race's entry rules – Briggs insisted that Switzer, "a card-carrying member of the (Amateur Athletic Union)," could not be a bandit and would have to register — and found nothing about gender. Switzer, an aspiring journalist from Syracuse University, signed up using her first initial, K.
SwitzerI generally am pretty law-abiding. I don’t speed in my car...But am I bold? I’m also bold. And am I the type of person who asks for permission or begs for forgiveness? I ask for forgiveness.
Although Gibb was also in the race for the second year in a row, it was Switzer in official Bib No 261 that offended race director Jock Semple so much that he ran after her, in his blazer and slacks, and tried to pull her off the course.
Life After the Marathon
Switzer went to work in PR and helped create the Avon International Running Circuit of 400 women's races that showed the IOC there were enough women to fill out an Olympic field. When the women's marathon was added to the Summer Games in 1984, the qualifiers at the US Olympic trials were given trophies of a girl running.
Switzer went on to win the 1974 New York City Marathon and provide TV commentary in Boston for the last 37 years. In 2015, she created 261 Fearless, a non-profit that uses running to empower women around the world; its logo is a rendering of her original bib, with one corner torn off from the struggle.
"What happened to me was a radicalising experience. And it was one that made me bound and determined to change things for women," she said. "Running had given me everything, and I wanted other women to feel that as well.
Women who are empowered can change the whole society around them for the better. And running — I know it sounds crazy — but one foot in front of the other, it’s a transformational experience.
(With inputs from Reuters)
Join The Quint on WhatsApp. Type “JOIN” and send to 9910181818.