In 1967, a 20-year-old Katherine Switzer became the first woman to enter the Boston Marathon and 50 years later, in 2017, she’s doing it again at age 70.
Kathrine Switzer, who registered for the famed race as “K.V. Switzer” in 1967 became historic because she was the first woman to complete the strictly all-male race as an official entrant as her registration name hid her gender. When it was discovered that a woman had entered the race an official tried to force her off the course.
Unlike in 1967, this time she’ll be an honorary starter in the race. She’ll run the race with a team of runners who will be representing her global running non-profit, 261 Fearless (named after her bib in the 1967 race).
“The marathon was a man’s race in those days; women were considered too fragile to run it,” she wrote in an essay for The New York Times 10 years ago. “But I had trained hard and was confident of my strength.”
When Jock Semple, the race co-director, discovered a woman had registered in the marathon, he was furious. In the middle of the race, Semple tried to shove Switzer and physically pull her out. “He was pulling at me and screaming, ‘Get the hell out of my race and give me that number’”. She had entered the race with her friend Arnie and her boyfriend Tom Miller and it took a a body block her boyfriend to knock the official off the course. “Arnie was screaming at Jock, and then Tom smashed Jock out of the way.”
The moment was captured by photographer Harry Trask, instantly turning Switzer into an icon. Semple disqualified Switzer from the race and the Amateur Athletic Union suspended her and boyfriend, Miller. Switzer, who was attacked simply for wanting to run, became an international feminist symbol and helped break the long-held barriers against women in long distance running. In a recent interview, she recalled, “I said, ‘This is going to change my life, maybe going to change women’s sports and change the world.’”
Women were finally officially allowed to enter the Boston Marathon in 1972.
According to reports, the Boston Marathon will retire Switzer’s original bib number ‘261’ in her honor. “Fifty years later, women make up almost half the field at Boston. It’s a phenomenal social revolution, and it has happened in my lifetime,” Switzer told Outside Magazine. “To be there in Boston to celebrate that moment, the place where it all began, is extremely gratifying and validating.”