Trailblazing athlete Kathrine Switzer’s story is inspiring on many levels. In 1967 Kathrine became the first woman to officially run in the world’s most famous road race, the Boston Marathon. The race had been a men’s only event for seventy years. Kathrine registered with her initials KV Switzer, so when the race officials saw her entry details they must have assumed that KV were the initials of a man.
Race day in Boston dawned cold, wet and miserable. As the warm up started, so did the heavy snow. Kathrine had trained in tough weather conditions so she wasn’t particularly phased. The race gun went off at 12 noon and an excited Kathrine set out along with her coach – veteran Boston marathoner Arnie Briggs, her boyfriend Tom Miller, and cross country runner John Leonard. All was going well, and none of the race officials appeared to have noticed that Kathrine was a woman, until around kilometre six when the press truck appeared.
The truck slowed in front of Kathrine. Surprised and excited to see a woman with an official bib number, the press photographers eagerly snapped their lenses. Also on the press truck was race co-director Jock Semple, who – incensed that a woman was officially running in the Boston Marathon, attempted to rip her bib numbers off. A terrified Kathrine escaped with the assistance of Miller who pushed Semple to the side of the road. A galvanising photograph from the race (available online) shows the moment when Semple attacked Kathrine. Although angry and humiliated and knowing that she would be disqualified, Kathrine ran the remaining thirty six kilometres and finished the marathon in a time of circa 4:20:00.
Kathrine went on to win the New York Marathon in 1974 with a time of 3:07:29. In 1975 she achieved her PB with a time of 2:51:37 in the Boston Marathon making her the 6th fastest woman on earth (women were finally allowed to enter Boston officially in 1972). Kathrine successfully campaigned for the inclusion of the women's marathon in the 1984 Los Angelus Olympics.
Kathrine ran her ninth Boston Marathon at the age of seventy in 2017 – fifty years after she first completed the race. The Boston Athletic Association issued Katherine with the bib number 216, the same number which she had been assigned in 1967. She was joined in the race by 12,380 other women athletes who made up almost half the total number of participants. Bib number 216 was retired by the Boston Athletic Association after the 2017 marathon in Kathrine's honour.
Kathrine imagined a gender equal world - a world free of gender bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. She broke the status quo, drove positive change, and became an activist and role model for women. Individually we are all responsible for ensuring gender equality – all day, every day. Collectively, we can #BreakTheBias.
Happy International Women’s Day from everyone at Spencer Lennox.