Forty-five years ago, on the eve of the Women’s liberation movement Kathrine Switzer made history by becoming the first women to ever ‘officially run’ the Boston Marathon. But it was four photographs taken of Switzer’s famous altercation with a race director that day would spark a revolution not only in women’s running, but also in women’s rights.
Switzer was in New Hampshire this week to give the keynote address at the annual Women Building Community Luncheon in Manchester put on by the United Way of New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and the Women’s Fund”
Exchange Executive Producer Keith Shields, sat down with her and has this look back gives this profile of Kathrine Switzer
On April 19th, 1967, Kathrine Switzer almost didn’t finish the Boston Marathon; her journey nearly came to a dramatic halt only two miles into the race.
All of sudden I heard this scraping noise behind me. And I quickly turned and just at that moment, this very very angry person was looming over me and just grabbed me by the shoulders and threw me back and screamed ‘get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers’ and began trying to rip the numbers off the front of my sweatshirt.
That person was Jock Semple, the race director of the Boston Marathon, who didn’t want a woman running in the race
But Switzer’s boyfriend Tom Miller was running as well. And the aspiring Olympic hammer thrower jumped in and with his 235 pound frame checked Jock Semple with such a force that he went flying off the road.
And we were terrified because he went down like a crumpled suit of clothes and my coach said, run like hell and down the street we went.
And in four hour, and twenty minutes, Kathrine Switzer crossed the finish line and became the first woman to officially finish the Boston Marathon.
You see, forty-five years ago, women weren’t allowed to run Boston, or any marathon for that matter. In fact, in the Olympics, the longest distance women could compete at was one half mile.
I look back at those times with a sort of despair because a lot of those women were simply afraid, that they believed all the old myths of arduous exercise would give you big legs, and hair on your chest and your uterus would fall out. I wanted to tell them how wonderful this is not only because it gets you healthy and strong but also so empowered.
Switzer, had been running for years, and was training with the men’s cross country team at Syracuse University when she met Arnie Briggs, a former marathoner who happened to also train with the team.
He told me if I showed him in practice that I could run the marathon, he would be the first one to take me to Boston, thinking this was an easy bet because there’s no way any woman could run a marathon.
But the year before, a woman had run the Boston Marathon. Roberta Gibbs who hid behind a bush until it started, jumped in and finished the race.
When I said that, he just exploded in rage and said, no dame every ran no marathon, let’s get going and so I convinced him to run with me and train with me.
There was nothing in the rule book that actually forbid women from running the Boston marathon. So she got an application and wrote her name as K.V. Switzer. The application was accepted, and Switzer traveled to the starting line with her coach Arnie Briggs and her boyfriend Tom Miller.
It was the worst weather. It was 35 degrees, snowing and sleeting. Everybody looked alike with big old baggy sweat suits. When we got into the official starting pen, the officials were so harried, with this bad weather that they were checking off the numbers on their clipboards. An official looked at my number and pushed me in the starting pen and my coach said “see there’s no problem.
They were two miles in when the altercation happened. A press truck had been following them and a cameras were rolling during the whole scuffle. Before Switzer even crossed the finish line, these pictures of a middle aged man in a sports jacket, launching at a woman, trying to rip the number off of her back, had been flashed around the world. According to Switzer, that’s when things changed for her.
I just turned to my coach Arnie and said, I don’t know where you are with this now but Arnie, everything’s changed, I got to finish this race no matter what. Because if I don’t finish this race, nobody’s going to believe that women can do it or deserve to do it or deserve to be here. It hadn’t been a women’s rights issue up to that point and suddenly I understood, it very much was a woman’s rights moment.
Switzer did finish, and five years later, eight women toed the starting line of the Boston Marathon as official registered runners.
Ever since, Switzer has made it her life’s work to convince others about the abilities of women and the transformative power that running. She led the fight to have the women’s marathon at the 1984 Summer Olympics, and now is breaking barriers in women’s sports in areas of the world far behind the United States.
The Olympic Games were the first time in its 2000 years of history in which every member nation had a women representative. To see women from Saudi and Yemen alone on the track on global television is a massive statement. It’s a very big door that has to be open pushed open but I believe that sports is going to do it faster than anything else.
This year, sixty five year old Kathrine Switzer and the seven others who ran the first woman’s race were honored at the Boston Marathon, and she says she will run again in 2017… 50 years after Switzer changed the face of women’s sports in four hours and twenty minutes over twenty six miles, three hundred and eight five yards