Kathrine Switzer - Revolutionary Women

31 Days of Revolutionary Women, #07: Kathrine Switzer

By Hattie Quick

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ll be posting one story each day of March written by local citizen journalists about a revolutionary woman from history or today who has inspired them as women.

Almost 50 years ago, in 1967, Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to register in and complete the Boston Marathon. There were no rules about women racing, but as a function of the times, it was extremely discouraged. So much so that race director Jock Semple attempted to remove Kathrine from the race at the 4 mile mark with physical force. Thankfully, Kathrine was able to continue the race without any other disturbances. 

Kathrine was 19 years old at the time and trained for months to prepare for the marathon. She was unofficially training with men’s cross country team at Syracuse University and met her coach, Arnie Briggs – a university mailman who had completed 15 Boston Marathons. Arnie pushed Kathrine to extremes and she continued to fight through tough training days. She even completed a 31-mile run three weeks before to ensure she would successfully finish the 26.2 miles on race day. Arnie completed this run alongside Kathrine and passed out right after, but her performance inspired Arnie help Kathrine register for the race the very next day. Kathrine paid the $3 entry fee, got a fitness certificate from the university infirmary, and registered as “K.V. Switzer”.

Kathrine was angered during her marathon experience but also empowered to continue the journey of demonstrating how to create opportunities so easily afforded to men. Over the next 5 years Kathrine finished her undergraduate and masters studies in journalism and returned to the Boston Marathon in 1972, the same year that Title IX become law. Jock Semple, who was against Kathrine running in 1967, was now a key player in the formal admission of women in the Boston Marathon. Switzer’s experience in 1967 help put women’s running on the map and encouraged so many peers to push beyond the limits previously imagined.

Following the 1972 marathon, Switzer began a long journey of trying to include women’s marathon running in the Olympic Games. This realization came after her journalism career lead her to the 1972 Olympics. Kathrine discovered what it might take for the women’s marathon to advance as a sport. She worked to promote women’s running for many years, attempting to add to the number of contested women’s races in 25 countries over 3 continents, the standard process before a sport can be considered for the Olympic Games. During this time, Kathrine continued her own journey with running and went on to win the 1974 New York Marathon and complete her personal best (2:51 PR) at the Boston Marathon in 1975. After years of work, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) added the women’s marathon to the program in 1984 and Joan Benoit was the first winner in the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Kathrine Switzer started out as a 19-year -old woman interested in running and continues her career creating social change for women in sports. Her work has encouraged many women, like me, to continue to push our own boundaries in and out of the sport of running. She is a great woman who has done some amazing things that many people did not believe were possible for women. Rightfully so, Switzer was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2011.

Kathrine Switzer still runs the occasional marathon (completed 4:36 at the Berlin Marathon in the Fall of 2011) and she plans to run the 2017 Boston Marathon on her 50th anniversary. Switzer reports for the Boston Marathon each year and has broadcast every televised edition for over 30 years. Her memoir, Marathon Woman, was published in 2007.

 

Hattie Quick, MSW, works at the University of Washington as a research coordinator. Hattie was a Women’s Studies major in undergrad, so this activity felt like a welcome way to return to those gender liberating years.

Featured Image: Modified from the original by Marathona licensed under CC BY 3.0

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