Monday, November 02, 2009

Kathrine Switzer - Voted "Most Important Female [running] Pioneer"

(Courtesy of Sam Pritchard)

Sam says: - I had not appreciated that women were not allowed to take part in the Boston marathon until 1972! This is the lady that pioneered women’s participation in marathon races. This is worth a read.

...The next day he came over to my dorm with the race entry form. I knew that Bobbi Gibb didn't wear a number, so I somehow thought I'd just show up and run. Oh no, said Arnie, Boston is a serious race, you are a serious runner, you are a member of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), and you don't mess with Boston. You have to do it right and officially register. I wondered if it might be against some rule, remembering that I was allowed to run in the conference at Lynchburg College but not with the NCAA at Syracuse University. Arnie had anticipated the question and had the current AAU Rulebook with him. The book listed "Men's Track and Field Events," "Women's Track and Field Events," and then a third category, "The Marathon," which listed nothing about gender. We laughed that nobody would think about a woman running a marathon since only crazy men ran it anyway!

The application also called for a medical certificate. In lieu of that I could have opted to have an onsite physical exam at Boston, but Arnie didn't think I'd want to stand in a hallway with a bunch of naked men getting a physical. So I went to the Syracuse Infirmary for my physical and got the medical certificate signed. Anyway, I filled out the entry, plunked down my $3 entry fee, and signed my name, K.V. Switzer.
Now, the reason I signed K.V. Switzer instead of Kathrine is because I always signed my name that way. Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be a writer and K.V. was going to be my signature name. It seemed to my young mind then that all the good writers used their initials like J.D. Salinger, E.E.Cummings, T.S. Elliot, W.B. Yeats -- so ever since I was twelve I signed all my papers K.V. Switzer, thinking I was totally cool. It was my signature.

Arnie sent my application in with the rest of the track guys from Syracuse who were also planning on running the marathon. Actually, I was the only one who had really trained. That night, I went out with my boyfriend Tom Miller, who was a graduate student and a hammer thrower. He was very amused with all this and would ask me how my 'jogging' was going. When I told him I was running the Boston Marathon, he fell down laughing. He said if I could run a marathon he could too and decided to sign up. He weighed 235 pounds but that didn't discourage him. He just felt if I could do it he could. To prove his point he went out and ran nine miles and declared he was ready. So we all go to Boston.

The day of the race was horrible. Sleeting, snowing, windy and cold. All the runners had on big baggy sweats with windbreakers and hoods. I wore my worst stuff because Arnie said when we got warmed up we'd throw away our old sweats and just leave them behind. As I pinned on my number, the other runners around me noticed I was a woman and got very excited and supportive. They thought it was great that a woman was going to run Boston. We all lined up to go through the starting pen and as I went through the pen, I had to lift my sweatshirt to show my number. Will Cloney himself, the co-race director, pushed me through the starting gate. More people were noticing I was female and congratulated me, all very supportive and excited for me. Arnie, my boyfriend Tom, John Leonard from our cross country team and I were in a little group. Our plan was to stay together for a while but if anyone wanted to split off we would meet at the finish. The race starts and off we go.

Four miles into the race, the media flatbed truck loaded with photographers came through and we all had to get out of the way to let it pass. A bus followed the truck with the journalists and on that bus were co-race directors Will Cloney and Jock Semple. The photographers saw me first and started shouting, 'There's a girl in the race,' and then slowed up in front of us and started taking pictures. By now, I'd thrown away my top sweatshirt and my hair was flying. I didn't try to disguise my gender at all. Heck, I was so proud of myself I was wearing lipstick! When the journalists saw me, they started teasing Jock that a girl had infiltrated his race. They looked up my number and saw K. Switzer and started heckling Jock some more. 'She doesn't look like a Karl,' they'd say. Their bus was still behind us. I was unaware what was going on behind me as we were waving at the photographers in front of us.

Jock was well known for his violent temper. He seethed for awhile, and then he erupted. He jumped off the bus and went after me. I saw him just before he pounced, and let me tell you, I was scared to death. He was out of control. I jumped away from him as he grabbed for me, but he caught me by the shoulder and spun me around, and screamed, 'Get the hell out of my race and give me that race number.' I tried to get away from him but he had me by the shirt. It was like being in a bad dream. Arnie tried to wrestle Jock away from me but was having a hard time himself and then Tom, my 235-pound boyfriend came to the rescue and smacked Jock with a cross body block and Jock went flying through the air. At first, I thought we had killed him. I was stunned and didn't know what to do, but then Arnie just looked at me and said, 'Run like hell,' and I did as the photographers snapped away and the scribes recorded the event for posterity.

The rest is history. My infamous run at the 1967 Boston Marathon is recorded as unofficial and does not post a time, although it was around 4:20:00. Despite that the BAA wanted nothing to do with me, the fact that I ran with a number made headlines around the world. The New York Times reported the story but inadvertently said I didn't finish. I was furious and personally called the reporter to correct his mistake, saying just because you filed your story while I was still out running didn't mean I didn't finish! It was this incident as much as any other that made me determined to become a better runner, to prove I could also be a real athlete, as I certainly never was a quitter and even with all the dreadful stuff at Boston I would have finished that race on my hands and knees to prove that a woman could do it.
Afterwards, I decided to use this experience to insure that other women who wanted to run would not be subjected to the same treatment. I became an organizer and an outspoken proponent for women's physical capability. The first thing I did when Arnie and I got back to Syracuse was form The Syracuse Track Club and encouraged women to join. We staged regular meets with full opportunities for women. I felt the most important thing I could do for women was to create the forum for their acceptance in sports.

Back in Boston, Bobbi Gibb continued to run without a number, as did the other women who were coming on the scene as well. In 1969 three women including Nina Kuscsik, ran unofficially. I stayed away from Boston until 1970. That year, four other women also ran. This time they recorded my time, 3:34. By 1971, myself, Nina Kusisck and Sara Mae Berman ran Boston and afterwards we united our efforts to try and force the arm of the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) to officially allow women to run. We wanted to lift the ban in Boston as well as the exclusion of women running long distance in the Olympics, including the women's marathon.

Finally, in 1972, for the first time ever women were officially welcome to run the Boston Marathon. It was a big breakthrough - at last we could be ATHLETES. After this momentous decision, I continued fighting for women's rights in sports, but for awhile I moved my concentration on being an athlete to my first priority. I was 25 years old and knew I had a window of opportunity left and trained my brains out. I didn't want to get to be 40 and not have tried to go all out. I'd do a 20 or 27 miler every Sunday just to be ready for anything. Some years I did 7 or 8 marathons a year. Probably too much but guess what? I got good! I went back to Boston eight times, and ran a personal best of 2:51:37 in 1975. I also won the New York City Marathon in 1974. When I ran my 2:51 I was thrilled. I though of the time I could only run a mile, then 3 miles, than ran my first marathon at 4:20 only five years ago and here I broke the three hour mark. I am constantly amazed at what the human body can do. Really, I felt if I could do it on my limited talent, I thought thousands of women could do it, and they really deserved the chance to try.

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