A huge influence in women’s running, in advancing women’s rights and in the sport of running as a whole – Kathrine Switzer’s marathon in 1967 became historic because she was the first woman to complete the all-male race as an official entrant — registering as “K.V. Switzer” so as not to give away her gender. Determined to make a change, in 1969, Switzer lead a campaign to help get official status for women in distant races, and soon after became one of the first women to chair a USA Track & Field Long Distance Running district.
“Life is for participating, not for spectating”
Women were officially allowed to enter the races in 1972, and eight women entered, with Nina Kuscik winning in 3:10:26, and Switzer finishing in third. Following the door that Kathrine opened, Grete Waitz ran her first marathon in 1978, made a world record in New York, and helped increase the popularity of the sport. Eventually, the International Olympic Committee voted to add a women’s marathon to the 1984 Olympic Games, where Joan Benolt won the first women’s Olympic Marathon. The rest is history, as powerful women continued (and continue) to break records and advance the sport.
More than half of the marathon runners in the United States today are women.
Over the years, Switzer has competed in more than 30 marathons, winning New York in 1974 in 3:07:29, while also working as a television commentator and motivational speaker. Most recently, she started a foundation called 261 Fearless, a running club for women named after the number she wore on her Boston Marathon bib in 1967. She wanted to create a training program on a non-judgmental platform, in a movement to help female athletes know that they are not alone. Her hopes were that fearless women would reach out to those that were fearful, and help them take the first step in using the vehicle of running to truly transform.
In an interview with The Times, she stated “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,” and we couldn’t agree more. An acclaimed speaker, today Switzer is still making history and working with corporations, nonprofits, universities and special interest groups to talk about taking charge of health and fitness, creating success in difficult environments, turning negatives into opportunities, and FEARLESSLY implementing social and cultural change.
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