|Almost half the runners in this year’s Boston Marathon are women: over 14,000! Yet 50 years ago, in 1967, only one woman ran that race: Kathrine Switzer.
At the time, women didn’t run official races much. They were discouraged or barred from running because some men made (now ridiculous) claims that women’s bodies couldn’t handle strenuous exercise like running, while other men simply recoiled at the thought of a sweaty woman working hard (the horror!)
But Switzer wanted to run, so she registered simply as “K.V.” Not knowing she was a she, Switzer was assigned a bib number: 261. She began the race inconspicuously, but by mile 4 race director Jock Semple had discovered her, ran onto the course in a suit, and literally tried to rip the bib off her chest. He claimed the race was for men only.
Semple didn’t succeed, and Switzer finished the race. Like many others who have fought for equal rights, she demonstrated incredible courage that day. She went on to become an elite runner, then later an advocate for women’s rights in sports.
On that April day in 1967, the most important person to run the Boston Marathon was Kathrine Switzer. But she may not have finished had it not been for two men: her coach and her boyfriend. As Semple attacked her and tried to pull her and her bib off the course, these men pushed Semple away and blocked him so Switzer could keep running. They assisted a great and courageous woman in her historic act of resistance.
Every day, there are people like Kathrine Switzer who endure attempts to push them off course. Her story reminds me of two things:
1. Some people will unfairly face far more challenging odds than others.
2. Those people need allies – those who will step in and protect the opportunity for others to run the race as equals.
Allies are people who not only point out unfair treatment, but who will risk their own position in the race to fight for others. Switzer didn’t need allies because she wasn’t able to run the race on her own. She needed allies because a misguided fool attacked her.
Have you been given unfair odds? Keep running, and don’t let anyone push you off course.
Are you in a position to be an ally? Put your own interests aside and protect those in need of it. If you do, maybe someday soon they won’t need your protection, and what a joy that will be!
A final note: Kathrine Switzer ran the Boston Marathon again April 17, 2017, wearing the same bib number she wore 50 years ago. She was runner 261, in a race that thanks to her, is no longer “men’s only.”