Fifty years ago, a mystery runner named K. V. Switzer laced up her sneakers and took off from Hopkinton, MA for an arduous 26.2 mile run to Boston. Dressed in a simple gray track suit (circa 1967), Boston Marathon participant 261 started the race to challenge herself and ended up changing the face of women’s sports forever.
Many of us know the story. Women were barred from entering the Boston Marathon, so Katherine Switzer applied using only her gender-neutral first initials on the application. Marathon organizer Jock Semple (tipped off by reporters covering the race) was so incensed by her actions he attacked her and tried to physically remove her from the race. The attack repelled with the help of her boyfriend, Ms. Switzer went on to finish the race in 4:20.
From our 2017 perspective, it’s easy to shake our heads and puzzle over why a woman running in the Boston Marathon would be big deal. Today, girls play every sport and have abundant opportunities to train and compete. But, those of us of a certain age remember when opportunities for girls were scarce (my mother played half-court basketball in Junior High because girls couldn’t “handle the strain” of full court play). Today, I watch my own middle school-aged daughter complete with a love and passion for sports (particularly softball) that makes me proud. I think Katherine might be proud too.
So, thank you K.V. Switzer for taking that first step in Hopkinton. Thanks to you (and many women like you), every time a girl laces up her cleats or running shoes, or slips on her swim cap or biking shorts, she doesn’t worry about being allowed to compete. The only thing she’s thinking is, Yes! I! Can!
Ms. Switzer is participating is this year’s Boston Marathon and illumiNITE wishes #261 and all the runners the best of luck.