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Running Champion Fights Discrimination in Sports

Iconic marathoner and National Women’s Hall of Famer Kathrine Switzer recently founded 261 Fearless, a nonprofit that seeks to empower women through running. Switzer became the first young woman with an official number to run the Boston Marathon on April 19, 1967. The number was 261 and marked a legendary event in the race’s history.

Fifty years ago Switzer made history as the first woman entrant to officially compete in the Boston Marathon, at the time exclusively for men. Entering as K.V. Switzer to hide her gender, Switzer disproved the common belief that “women were too fragile to run it.”

By training hard, the marathoner completed the race in 4 hours and 20 minutes. Switzer also proved herself a mentally strong runner, ignoring harassment and heckling from an official a few miles into the marathon.

Still, it took a body block from my boyfriend to knock the official off the course,” wrote Switzer in an essay for The New York Times.

Switzer’s accomplishment helped open the door for female runners and athletes everywhere, showing that women could handle just as much physically strenuous activity as men. In 1972, women were officially allowed to enter the Boston Marathon and in the United States today, more than half of marathoners are women.

This year, Switzer
reprised her glory days, entering the Boston Marathon under the same official entrance number, 261. Miraculously, at 70 years old, Switzer completed the race at 4 hours and 41 minutes.

Since her ground breaking stint in 1967, Switzer has participated in over
30 marathons, becoming the champion of the New York Marathon in 1974 with a time of 3 hours and 7 minutes. At 2 hours and 52 minutes, Switzer’s time in the 1975 Boston Marathon was ranked sixth in the world and third in the United States in women’s marathoning. She has also worked as a television commentator.

A major spokeswoman for female participation in athletics, Switzer continues advocating for opportunities for women in physical fitness, business, and athletics. She would eventually create the Avon International Running Circuit.

Since its conception 30 years ago, it continues to reach millions of women in 27 countries. Switzer also successfully lobbied for making the women’s marathon an official Olympic Games event, and today she is the proud founder of the organization 261 Fearless. The organization is dedicated to fostering a global community of running via coaching programs and running clubs for women. They hope to provide women with a fun and empowering outlet that allows them to hone their health, self confidence, and athleticism.

Currently, Switzer’s 261 Fearless marathon team consists of 118 women and seven men. Individually, each team member’s goal is to raise a minimum of $7,261, but the team members hope to reach a collective amount of $1 million to donate towards recreational running clubs and events for women throughout the world.

Featured Image by akunamatata on Flickr

Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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