Fifty years ago, in 1967, Switzer registered in the marathon as “K.V. Switzer” so she would not reveal her gender. She was the first woman to complete the all-male race as an official entrant, and she made history.
Although she accomplished this, she did have difficulties. During the Boston Marathon in 1967, an official tried to remove her, but she still managed to finish.
In an essay for The New York Times written 10 years ago, Switzer wrote, “The marathon was a man’s race in those days; women were considered too fragile to run it. But I had trained hard and was confident of my strength. Still, it took a body block from my boyfriend to knock the official off the course.” Switzer recovered to finish in 4 hours 20 minutes.
She had worked hard and had every right to be there. It wasn’t until 1972 that women were finally officially allowed to enter the race.
In 1974 she won the New York Marathon, running 3:07:29. Additionally, over the years she has ran in more than 30 marathons. Switzer is also the founder of 261 Fearless, a running club for women. The club name, 261, stems from 1967. It is the number she wore in the Boston Marathon. In this year’s marathon, she wore the same number again.
The mission of 261 Fearless is to “bring active women together through a global supportive social running community.” This is sending a strong message to women of all ages across the world. Women are active and strong, and running is the perfect outlet for many people. There should not be restrictions for this liberating activity.
The club impacts the lives of these women and this is possible due to the way that the club is run.
It is stated on the 261 Fearless website, “Through a series of non-competitive running clubs and private communication channels, we provide networking, healthy running support and education, and a sisterhood to women all over the world.”
Before her start this year, she was given the honor of firing the gun for the women’s elite runners. After the race, the number was retired. It has been only the second number that the marathon has retired, the first being 61 for John Kelley, who ran 61 Boston Marathons.
Switzer wrote in The Times, “We learned that women are not deficient in endurance and stamina, and that running requires no fancy facilities or equipment. Women’s marathoning has created a global legacy.”
She is right. Now, more than half of marathon runners in the United States are women. Running is universal and should be inclusive to all genders and ages.
Switzer was confident in her abilities, despite the negativities that she encountered. She set new, higher standards for women that want to not only run, but use any of their strengths to the best of their abilities.
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