In 1967, at the age of 20, Kathrine Switzer was just a kid who wanted to run. Ambition and hard work were not enough, however, when the goal was as lofty as the Boston Marathon.
The Rules – Boston ’67
Women are not physically equipped to endure the rigors of long-distance running. The strain would cause women’s uteri to fall out; they would become musclebound and grow hair on their chests.
Kathrine, a field hockey player at Lynchburg College in Virginia, had just transferred to Syracuse University where she started working out with the men’s cross-country team. Arnie Briggs, a running devotee, took her under his wing, and soon Kathrine was running upwards of 10 miles per training session.
She brought up Boston during a running session.
If any woman could do it, Briggs said, you could, but you would have to prove it to me. If you ran the distance in practice, I’d be the first to take you to Boston.
Hot damn, Kathrine had a goal: the biggest race in the world. She worked herself up to 25-mile runs, and persuaded Briggs she was ready. Not trying to prove anything, only knowing I could do it.
Excitement gripped the Syracuse athletes. Kathrine’s boyfriend, a hammer thrower training for the ’68 Mexico City Olympics, and other runners, entered the race. The team was ready, and it included a runner registered under the gender-neutral K.V. Switzer.
On the morning of April 19, 1967, bitter temperatures greeted the runners. As the race got underway, Kathrine remained bundled up in grey sweats, her bib number pinned on her sweatshirt.
It didn’t take long before word got out: a broad was running the all-male Boston. Oh, the indignation caused by such nerve. Soon, the organizers caught up with Kathrine. The director, an angry man, lunged at her, grabbing at her bib number. Pulling and screaming, Get the hell out of my race and give me that number.
What happened next changed everything. Kathrine’s coach, her boyfriend, and other runners pushed the director and his men out of the way as spectators cheered.
LET HER RUN
LET HER RUN
Spectators and runners alike could see Katherine was a serious runner. She’d worked hard. They wanted her to do well. And she did not disappoint.
A story of unity and determination. And the beauty of it is …
She didn’t do it alone.
While Kathrine put in the hard work, decent people — men, for whom the rules had been written — stood up and said: No more.
A fitting story, perhaps, for our time: divisive and devoid of any sense of oneness.
A throw back to days when folks had each other’s back. When runners shoved officials out of the way and said: She worked hard. She deserves it. When the crowd stood with one woman and her friends for all the rest.
Today, music and poetry do a good job telling us to come together. What a wonderfully utopian prospect: the whole of mankind holding hands and singing, we are the world, as one.
Except there’s no such thing. We engage in divisive disputes all over the place — from coffee shops, to dinner tables, to social media — disputes that change no one’s mind, only make us angrier.
Sure, debate is important. Necessary. But when debate turns into never-ending dispute, the division deepens. We look to officials for help, each tribe with its own superstar statesman. In the meantime, those dividing us continue to prosper at our expense.
Briggs and the other men did not line up behind officials. They lined up behind Kathrine. In doing so, they earned the sympathy of a crowd who realized, as Kathrine crossed the finish line, that the rules were one-sided and ignorant. That the value of inclusion is priceless.
Because in the end, all we have is one another.
What a great story, Silvia. So inspirational, so timely. Thank you 💗💗💗
Thank you, Martha. It made a big impression on me.
EXCELLENT POST, Silvia. So timely too, as we definitely need to have one another’s backs. We have become terribly divisive. Thanks for the history lesson! Again, great job!
Gwynn, I came across Switzer’s story via the Runner’s World Magazine. It was their anniversary issue. Amazing what people can do when they come together. The marathon rules didn’t change for another couple years, I think, but this was a great first step.
Thanks for this, Silvia. I didn’t know the details of this story. Hard to believe the beginning of the story, and something young women need to know. It happened in their parents’ and grandparents’ lifetime. But the end of the story: gave me chills and hope!
That’s right, Linda. Good for young people to know. Thank you for reading and the lovely comment.
Reblogged this on Linda Covella, Author and commented:
Thank you, Silvia, for this post!
Love. Thanks for lifting up this story.
Thank you, Mary.
I’ve read about Kathrine before – it’s astonishing how recently these ignorant, prejudiced rules held women back. Not that I would ever have wanted to run a marathon but I would strongly defend any woman’s right to do so! I like how you have used this to give a message for the present day. I despair sometimes so it’s nice to read something hopeful.
I can understand the despair, Anabel. Same here. I take any shred of hope I can get. Thank you so much for reading.
Your underlined italic sentence says it all — those dividing us prosper at our expense. Cynicism hardens both the mind and the soul, but we need to seek common ground and call out injustice when we see it. Beautiful post.
Thanks you, Rosie. There is common ground, yes, and we’re so much more alike than different.
Thanks Silvia, great post. A shout out to those who knew Kathrine had earned the right to run, and those who did the the right thing and stood up against those who thought otherwise. Reminds me of the water protectors for the Dakota pipe line –
There was victory, albeit it could be temporary, in the pipeline fight. A decent news day for a change. Thank you so much, Susan.
I remember reading about her not too long ago. Great way to take this story and bring it to the present.
Thanks, Liz. Our present needs reminders of the past. :)
This is a wonderfully inspirational story, Sylvia, and one I didn’t know, even though I was a young adult at the time. I was told I couldn’t go to graduate school and wouldn’t survive as an academic at the university, but it made me all the more determined. I had strong parents behind me and a college which taught me anything was possible for a woman. Thank you for spreading the message and also the one of tolerance and compromise, my dear!
Your story is just as inspirational, Noelle. Terrific that your parents and college stood behind you, and you went ahead and showed the nay sayers that yes, a woman can do it. Thank you for reading.
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