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Kathrine Switzer

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While attending college, Switzer entered and completed the Boston Marathon in 1967, five years before women were officially allowed to compete in it. Her finishing time of approximately 4 hours and 20 minutes was nearly an hour behind the first female finisher, Bobbi Gibb (who ran unregistered). She registered under the gender-neutral "K. V. Switzer", which she insists was not done in an attempt to mislead the officials. She claims to have long used "K. V. Switzer" to sign the articles she wrote for her college paper. Race official Jock Semple attempted to remove her from the race, and according to Switzer said, "Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers." However, Switzer's boyfriend Tom Miller, who was running with her, shoved Semple aside and sent him flying. The photographs taken of the incident made world headlines.

As a result of her run, the AAU barred women from all competition with male runners, on pain of losing the right to compete. Switzer, with other women runners, tried to convince the Boston Athletic Association to allow women to participate in the marathon. Finally, in 1972, women were welcome to run the Boston Marathon officially for the first time ever.

RunnersLife caught up with Kathrine to ask her about her running career.....

 

Growing up, did you always have a dream to do something so inspirational as breaking the mould for female runners to be able to compete in Marathons?

No, up to about the age 16 I was totally unaware of any kind of discrimination against women. I thought that was the way women wanted it. I did have a ‘dream’ of being able to be both a physically strong woman and also being an ultra feminine; I wanted to prove that a woman could do both. The other dream is that I always wanted to be a writer, anybody who wrote a book was a god in my estimation.

Do you still hold strong opinions and  have that fire in the belly to do something about it?

Yes, a lot of stuff that got me going years ago still burns strong, even stronger, like wanting to write...the love of running...the desire to change things that are wrong still burns deeply but I am more sophisticated now and know there are big cultural and political problems that make women’s equality less ‘easy’ to solve than things. I know I have the solutions, I don’t have the physical energy...like to go to Africa and set up a good women’s running structure. I could do that, but I’d need to be on site and I am not willing to leave my own environment for that long now.

Do terms such as 'pioneer' sit comfortable with you and make you feel a sense of pride? 

Absolutely, I have no kids of my own by choice, but every time I see a woman runner, regardless of her age I take that maternal pride in her.

What do you believe is your greatest achievement?

Getting the women’s marathon into the Olympic Games. I did this by creating a global circuit of women’s races: 400 in 27 countries for a million women, I knew if the women’s marathon were in the Olympic Games then everyone around the world would know then that women could do anything.

What did it mean to you finish that famous race in Boston and did you have any idea of the impact it would have?

The first duty of every marathoner is to finish the course. So I was determined to finish, but there was no doubt in my mind that I would no matter what. I didn’t know it was going to have such impact until I saw the newspapers that night with the amazing photos, in a way, it is having more impact now than ever before.

Have you ever heard of or seen Jock Semple or any of the other athletes that were running nearby you since that day?

Yes, Jock Semple and I became best friends, of our ‘Team’ only John Leonard and I are left alive. But for years all of us stayed close. Arnie Briggs of course was like a 2nd father to me; I was with him when he died...for that matter, I visited Jock too, just hours before he passed away. Now there are many people who have come forward to say they were in the race too, and regard it as a great moment in history. In my book that I wrote there are memories from people who were there or who saw it. Very interesting from a journalism point of view

The moment happened just 4 miles into the famous race, how did you compose yourself and battle on to the finish line?

Anger is a huge motivator. I was so angry with Jock Semple I could have strangled him, but eventually, as you know, when the miles go on the anger abates and you get philosophical. It was then the creative juices began flowing and I could see how important it was for me to finish and then start getting other women to run.

What was it like for you to witness the sit down at the start of the 1972 NY Marathon and the 1984 Women’s Olympic Marathon?

I was not at the sit down, I was in Munich for the Olympic Games working as a journalist for the 1984 women’s marathon. I was working very hard not to be emotional as this was a very big broadcast for me, my first Olympics and I was working for the host broadcaster (ABC TV Sports). So I was focused on the race and I knew every woman in the field: I was trying to be professional  but it got horrible when Gabrielle Anderson Schiess staggered into the stadium and I thought the IOC might pull the women’s marathon from future Olympic Games, she looked so shattered so instead of feeling like it as a triumph at that moment I was very nervous. Only later did I start to relax and enjoy the fact that it was a global victory for all women. My own book ends on this note.

What are you up to at the moment and what future plans do you have for Avon and any other ventures?

I worked initially with AVON from 1977-86 and then went back to AVON in 1997 for 5 years and recreated the global circuit. Even with the women’s marathon in the Games, the need for global fitness is just as important as ever. But I am no longer with AVON, now I write books, do public speaking, expo appearances and some TV work on major marathons like Chicago, New York & Boston.

What more can be achieved for women’s running?

Heaps, we have only just started. Men have been seriously running for 3000 years and women have only been running for 40 years. We have yet to explore the fact that women actually have more endurance than men and are winning 100 mile races outright. As the sport changes and embraces very long distances and combinations with other women’s strengths such as flexibility, balance, ability, withstand the cold then we will open a new era. That’s the future. Right now we need to work on opportunities for many oppressed women in Africa, South America and the Middle East. Talent is everywhere; It only needs an opportunity.

 

 RunnersLife Team

 

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