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.