Here at FITNESS, we couldn’t think of anyone more fitting to highlight on National Running Day 2012 than Kathrine Switzer. As one of the women highlighted in the PBS/AOL partnership MAKERS, Switzer is sharing more about what it was like to be the first female to officially enter—and complete—a marathon, despite nearly being pushed off the course by a race director.
She surely inspires us, but who inspires Switzer? “The people creating the MAKERS program are visionaries. They’re archiving an oral history of all of these amazing women so that others can use them as resources in the future,” she says.
Read on to learn about how Switzer got her running start, what she was thinking when a race official tried to knock her off of the course during that first race and her hopes for the future of women in sports.
How did you first get started with running? Why do you love it?
My dad motivated me when I was young. He told me that if I run just one mile a day, I’ll become an athlete. That changed my life because I felt empowered. Finishing a run was a sense of victory no one could take away. If I could run a mile, maybe I could write for the student newspaper or be on the prom committee. Later, when I was at Syracuse University, I met the coach for the men’s cross country team. He and his team welcomed me to train with them and were all wonderful.
What were you thinking when you were being pushed off the course as the first woman officially running a marathon at Boston in 1967?
It was a real surprise. The race director attacked me very suddenly and it scared the hell out of me! Other men on the course were saying, “Keep going!” My boyfriend threw a cross-body block to throw the race director off course. That was my defining moment—I knew I would finish then. I was not the clown the race director made me out to be.
Sometimes when bad things happen, they are the best things. Now, not a day goes by that I don’t thank that race director!
See a photo of Switzer’s “defining moment” and read more about her journey below.
What do you hope women took away from seeing you finish that race?
The only way you learn to be fearless is to take that next step. Take a deep breath and just do it. One day, you’ll become quite capable of doing just about everything!
With the 40th anniversary of Title IX coming up, how have sports changed since you first started?
Running or fitness isn’t just about getting in shape, it’s all about feeling good about yourself and taking control of your life. It’s not coincidental that so much else has changed for women since the passing of Title IX—jobs, families and more. I think of that legislation as similar to the right to vote, but in the physical world.
Are you still a runner?
I’m 65 now and have great good luck and great good health to still run. I’ve finished several races this year and will do the New York Mini on Saturday. I took a 32-year break from marathons, but have done four in the past two years, including the marathon to Athens following the original route. It was just awesome! I always have a fitness goal because a goal gives you a focus.
Looking forward, what would you like to see happen in the sports world?
The history of women in sports is short, but there is a long future. Men have played sports for 2,500 years, women have for about 100. The potential is huge. Who’s to say what sports will look like in 50 years? Women have endurance, stamina, balance and flexibility when men have speed and strength. Why don’t we have sports that men and women do together, like relays that take advantage of the best of men and women? We have to be together in life. I love men—I’ve married a lot of them!