Kathrine Switzer, First Woman to Enter the Boston Marathon
Kathrine Switzer talks about the prejudices women athletes faced, her historic running of the Boston Marathon, and the doors it opened.
First Woman to Enter the Boston Marathon
Kathrine Switzer on the prejudices women athletes faced, her historic Boston Marathon run, and the doors it opened for other women athletes.
Why She’s a MAKER: “The idea of running long distances was always questionable for women.” Kathrine Switzer shut down those doubts in 1967 as the first woman to officially enter the Boston Marathon. Her entry ignited a controversy and made national headlines when a male official tried to attack Switzer and physically drag her off the course. Still, she says giving up never crossed her mind. “I’m going to finish the race on my hands and my knees if I have to because nobody believes I can do this … if i don’t finish this race, then everyone is going to believe that women can’t do it.”Flexing Her Muscles: In the ‘60s, “an arduous activity would mean you get big legs, you’ll grow a mustache or hair on your chest, your uterus would fall out,” says Switzer, who entered the all-male race under the alias K.V. Switzer to fool officials. When her coach asked if she was “too fragile” for the 26-mile challenge, it only strengthened her resolve. “It’s the physical equivalent to the right to vote because it’s acknowledgement at the highest level that women can achieve anything physically.”
Run the Good Race: As a girl growing up in Virginia, her dad told her “life is to participate, not to spectate.” She applied that mantra to her organization 261 Fearless which encourages women to come off the sidelines and empowers them through the act of running. The lightbulb went off for Switzer when she realized that the lack of scholarships and prize money in the sport affected how many women participated in the sport. “It’s not because women don’t want those things, it’s because they’ve never had an unintimidating experience and opportunity to prove themselves.”
Crossing the Finish Line: Five years after her historic run, women were officially allowed to compete in the Boston Marathon. Switzer also advocated to add the women’s marathon to the Olympics, which was finally included as an event in 1984. On the 50th anniversary of her historic run, Switzer returned to the Boston Marathon in 2017 to compete in the final race of her career—only this time her competitors looked completely different. “Every time I see a woman running, I say ‘she’s mine.’”