In 1967, women rarely participated in professional or competitive sports. Kathrine Switzer was a student at Syracuse, where she trained with the men’s cross-country team. The Syracuse coach told her women were too fragile to run long distances. But if she could run the marathon distance in practice, he promised to take her to the Boston marathon.
On the application she used her initials rather than her first name. No woman had ever run in the Boston Marathon. About a mile into the race, the race director tried to throw her out. In an interview with CBS, she said she turned around and looked into the angriest face she’d ever seen. (A picture is worth a thousand words.) Her large, stout, football-playing boy friend who was running with her handled the director, while her coach hollered at her to keep running. As Helen Keller taught us, “We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.”
Switzer was brave and confident of her strength in 1967 and is still brave and confident today. She ran the Boston Marathon this past Monday to mark the 50th anniversary of becoming the first women to officially complete the race. Her original time was 4:20. This week, at the age of 70, she ran it in 4:44.
In 2013, Kathrine said, “When I go to the Boston Marathon now, I have wet shoulders—women fall into my arms crying. They’re weeping for joy because running has changed their lives. They feel they can do anything.” Switzer’s fearlessness has inspired many and continues to inspire. She is the founder of 261 Fearless, a running club designed to empower women. 261 is the bib number she wore in 1967 and again in 2017. She pioneered the way for women everywhere by demonstrating that women are not lacking endurance or stamina.
Now it's our turn to be brave and confident, so that others can be inspired. No one is too fragile to run the race set before them.