Kathrine Switzer, a women’s running pioneer

It was not that simple as it sounds, registering the name and starting the race wasn’t enough, the race resonated far beyond a footnote in the record books when an official tried to force her from the course after a few miles.

By Author   |   Published: 20th Apr 2017   5:02 pm Updated: 21st Apr 2017   11:12 am
Boston : Kathrine Switzer, who was the first official woman entrant in the Boston Marathon 50 years ago, crosses the finish line in the Boston Marathon. Photo: AP.

Hyderabad: The story dates back to 50 years from now, in 1967 a marathon race in the city of Boston. Like everyone else a runner enrolled as K.V. Switzer ran to finish the race, what was special about this runner? She was hiding her gender in the name and the organisers never realise that. With this Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to complete the all-male race as an official entrant in 1967 and registered her name in the history forever.

It was not that simple as it sounds, registration of name and starting the race wasn’t enough, the race resonated far beyond a footnote in the record books when an official tried to force her from the course after a few miles. As if this wasn’t enough she also saw her bib No. 261 being retired by the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), first number to be retired, though BAA denied it.

She recalled her effort to reach finishing line, as one of official noticed her at the two mile mark and tried to push her out of the race. “He grabbed me … threw me back and he said, ‘Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers,’ he tried to pull my bib numbers off,” said Switzer.

Her boyfriend intervened and she continued to run. It was all captured in the iconic photograph that later helped in electrifying the women’s movement and to bring change in games for female athletes.

Switzer however, was disqualified from the race and had to face the backlash from all the directions, aggressive journalists approached her at the finish line, yelling, “Real women don’t run.” She was also expelled from the Athletic Federation, which meant she wasn’t allowed to run. That is when she started her own club, and they ran in Canada.

But not everyone was agitated with her participation in the race, she managed to make fans immediately after her achievement, they surrounded her, hugged her and took pictures with her, she became the pioneer of women’s running.

“People have such an appreciation for what running has done for them and how it’s changed their lives,” said Switzer, who named her 261 Fearless foundation after the bib number that was torn from her back on the marathon course.

Fifty years later, she finished the race again, donning the same number: 261. “I just ran the fastest marathon I’ve run in 46 years,” she told NBC News after finishing.

It’s an impressive feat for someone whose coach once told her, “No dame ain’t ever run no marathon.”

Her contribution in this struggle for women’s right didn’t end there, she began organising road races for women, the movement which helped persuade the Olympics to add a women’s marathon in 1984.

In 2011, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York, where under her photo they quoted Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

“It was a very good thing she wasn’t well-behaved on that morning,” said Joann Flaminio, the first female president in the 125-year history of BAA.

Switzer never stopped running and she won the New York Marathon in 1974 and continued to run Boston until 1976. After this she began TV commentary and continued it for the next 37 years, along with the advocacy of women rights in games.

In 2017 she came back, at the age of 70, she ran it again, and finished the race in 4 hours, 44 minutes, 31 seconds—only about 25 minutes slower than fifty years ago when she was 20. But this time she ran along with the other 11,973 women, victory indeed was hers.