Katherine Switzer, A Woman of Determination

I should have known it. Or at least, I should not have been surprised to hear this.

I only discovered this past spring that women weren’t always allowed to run the Boston Marathon. At one time, it was thought that running would hurt their “delicate natures.”

In 1967, women were supposed to be content to stay on the sidelines, watching men live life instead of living it to the fullest themselves.

It was also a time when women were starting to break barriers, the days of women’s liberation.  It was also the year that one woman broke a barrier and made “strides” for women runners everywhere.

Katherine Switzer loved to run and had been running since she was 12. As a student at Syracuse, she was running with the men’s cross-country team because there were no women’s teams around. As she and her coach, Arnie Briggs, were finishing a 10-mile run, he challenged her that if she were able to prove to him in practice that she could go the distance of a marathon, he’d take her to Boston.

She did, so he did. She, Arnie and two others signed up to run the Boston Marathon. You’ve probably seen the photos of her being attacked by a race official.

 (photo credit: CORBIS)

(photo credit: CORBIS)

She finished the race but women still were not officially allowed to compete in the marathon until 1972.

She paved the way for women such as Kara Goucher, a 2:34 marathoner. She represented the United States at the London Olympics in 2012.

In an April 2012 ESPN interview Goucher said, “It is fair to say that her courage to run the Boston Marathon paved the way for me to live the life that I do. Thanks to her bravery, I am living my dreams and running professionally.”

Photo credit: marathonfoto.com

Photo credit: marathonfoto.com

You can read Katherine Switzer’s remarkable story of that history-changing day in Boston here as well as her work to create running events for women all around the world. In 1977, she created the Avon International Running Circuit, a global series of women’s races that became her life work. She also lobbied to have the women’s marathon included in the Olympics, which it finally was in 1984.

Two years ago (2011) at age 66, Katherine Switzer ran her 39th marathon in Berlin. She plans to run Boston again in 2017, marking the 50th anniversary of her famous race. When she does, she should be issued her original bib number – 261. After that, this number should be retired, just as a football or baseball star’s number is retired.

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