Athletics / Community

Running towards female empowerment: Switzer returns to the Boston Marathon fifty years later

The Boston Marathon this year marked a special anniversary. Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon in 1967, and 50 years later, in 2017, she ran it again at age 70.

When Switzer first ran the marathon 50 years ago, there were no official rules barring women from entering the race. However, it was an assumed fact that women didn’t run the race. Many people, including Switzer’s cross country coach at Syracuse University, didn’t believe a woman could cover the distance. When she registered for the race, she used her initials, K.V., as her name, and there was no question about gender on the registration form; Switzer got the bib without a problem.

On race day, she wore makeup and bright colors, her signature look; she made no effort to hide the fact that she was a woman. She ran the first couple of miles without issue until Jock Semple, the race director, charged her on the course and tried to snatch her bib. Fortunately, Switzer’s boyfriend, and future spouse, was running alongside her, and the All American Football Player made sure Semple didn’t disrupt Switzer anymore by side tackling him as Semple tried to snatch Switzer’s race numbers. The whole altercation took place right in front of the press truck, and the photos have become iconic. Switzer completed the marathon that year in four hours and twenty minutes, and her website says she didn’t stop because “no one would believe women could run distances and deserved to be in the Boston Marathon; they would just think that I was a clown… [I] was serious about my running and I could not let fear stop me.”

This year, Switzer ran with the same number, 261, as she did 50 years ago. She ran alongside 125 teammates from her organization, 261 Fearless, which aims to empower women through running. Another person she ran with was Ms. Sarah Martin, a social studies teacher in the Middle School. Ms. Martin got to speak with her briefly as they ran side by side, and she says she “took the opportunity to tell [Switzer] that I was grateful for all she had done for women and for the sport of running, and she said thank you.” Ms. Martin began running with her “about two miles beyond where she was originally assaulted on the road in 1967 [by Semple]. I wondered what it was like for her to pass that spot 50 years later knowing she was surrounded by so much love and respect.”

Didi Niles ’17, commented that “being a woman means you have to be really careful while running. I’ve been honked at while running in a sports bra and experienced catcalling as well.” As Ms. Martin said, Switzer has done a lot for women in running; her organization 261 Fearless has worked to remedy the issues Niles spoke about. The website for her organization says that it aspires to offer “a safe and secure global running community for women.”

Ms. Marcie Bruder, a Varsity Cross Country coach, said this race was “monumental, especially with women trying to break the glass ceiling everywhere. This was inspirational. Her running this race is a reminder to stay strong.”

Photos: Kathrine Switzer now and then (in 1967). Sources: 26a Fearless website and ESPN.com.