I need to first preface this post by giving the appropriate credit where credit is due. “New and Wonderful Souls” were the words used by Vicki Huber Rudawsky in an email to me to describe her thoughts on what was a very memorable evening… I liked them… so I borrowed them.
It isn’t everyday that one has an opportunity to meet true greatness face to face. It isn’t everyday that one has the chance to sit and listen to an individual who helped change the entire blueprint of women’s athletics, and who blazed a trail for millions of young women to follow. It isn’t everyday that an icon such as Kathrine Switzer passes through Wilmington Delaware to speak on sports, on believing in yourself, and on how one episode in 1967 facilitated change that will resonate for generations to come. Girls Inc, YMCA of Delaware, Girls on the Run, and Piranha Sports proudly presented Ms. Switzer to a room full of men and women of all ages at the Central YMCA in Wilmington DE on October 22nd as she told her story.
In 1967 Kathrine was journalism student at Syracuse University with a passion for running. Such a passion, that Switzer proclaimed to all who would listen that she had plans to run the Boston Marathon. The Boston Marathon was second in prestige only to the Olympic games and was an event in which only men could compete. Or so most people thought. Studying the marathon rules ever so diligently, Switzer found no documented proof that a woman was prohibited from entering the Boston classic so she took the bold leap and registered for the race under the name of “K.V. Switzer”. After all, back then, everyone feared that women were far to weak and fragile to engage in something as physically demanding as the marathon. And were often told that women should not run any serious distance because…..”they would get huge legs, grow hair on their chest, and be unable to ever have children”.
Kathrine Switzer showed up on race day with her boyfriend Tom, close friend and mentor Arnie Briggs, and a couple of Syracuse cross country runner friends. What happened next forever changed the framework for women’s athletics. Four miles into the 1967 Boston Marathon, race director Jock Semple pulled up alongside Switzer screaming and demanding that she leave the course, while attempting to physically rip off her race number and remove her. With the help of her entourage, Kathrine held her ground and refused to allow herself to be bullied out of the race for being a female.
Switzer went on to finish that race in 4:20. And 34 other marathons. Including winning New York City in 1974 and posting a marathon PR in 1975 of 2:51. But that all still doesn’t scratch the surface of the impact that this woman had on the sport and on the world. Switzer went on to create additional opportunities by championing women’s events all over the world. She became a voice on the road, in front of the cameras, and in the broadcast booth. She gave a face to the words “belief” and “possibility” and she annihilated the gender barrier.
Following Switzer’s talk at the Central Y, several of us were invited to join her for dinner at a nearby Wilmington restaurant. As we wined, dined, and chatted about – everything under the sun, I glanced around the room and saw a table full of women who are all carrying Swizter’s mission and message full steam ahead through the programs of the evening’s sponsors. Seated to my left was Villanova running legend and two-time Olympian Vicki Huber Rudawsky. Seated to my ride, was Kathrine Switzer. I shook my head at the profound concept that if “the Boston incident” had played out differently for the woman on my right, the woman on my left would have had an entirely different path in life. As so many women athletes would have.
It really was an evening to appreciate new friendships and “new and wonderful souls”. And one that I was glad to be a part of.
For the complete story on Kathrine, please visit Marathon Woman.