First woman to run in Boston Marathon to speak at Mount Holyoke College

By Maclane Walsh

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Any long distance runner knows there will be physical challenges that they will face while running.

But Kathrine Switzer had to overcome gender discrimination, too. She was the first woman ever to run in the Boston Marathon in 1967, shaking off a physical attack from the race’s director in the process. And on Thursday, she’ll be taking the stage at Mount Holyoke College to give a speech about resilience.

Her speech, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 7 p.m. in the Gamble Auditorium of the Art Building at Mount Holyoke College.

Switzer, who gained national and international acclaim for being the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon, didn’t cross the finish line without a few hurdles.

In 1967, the Boston Marathon was a men’s only event, so Switzer signed up as “K.V. Switzer,” fooling race officials about her gender. On race day, Switzer laced up her shoes and ran among her male competitors, who, as Switzer recalls in an interview with Makers.com, were excited and showed their support. Soon, a press truck rolled up filled with photographers, all of whom wanted to get a shot of this brave woman.

Suddenly, out of a city bus jumped the race director, Jock Semple, who ran at Switzer, clawing for her number. “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!” yelled Semple, according to Switzer in her memoir “Marathon Woman.”

With the help of a block from her boyfriend, Tom Miller, she sent Semple tumbling. Switzer finished the race with blister laden feet and a completed marathon time of four hours and 20 minutes.

Since then, Switzer has been a leading voice for female runners everywhere. In 1972, five years after her historic run, women were finally allowed to participate in the Boston Marathon. Later that year, Switzer helped create one of the first women’s road races. She helped found and formerly directed the Avon International Running circuit of women’s only races, which hosted around 400 events in 27 different countries with around 1,000,000 participants.

The popularity of these events coupled with Switzer’s determined lobbying was a major factor in convincing the International Olympic Committee to include a women’s marathon in the 1984 Olympics for the first time.

Switzer has also gone on to become a television commentator. She has covered the Olympics, world and national championships, the New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Pittsburgh marathons and has done commentary for each of the 36 Boston Marathons that have aired on television. In 1997, Switzer won her first of several Emmy Awards for her commentary of the Los Angeles Marathon.

As a writer, Switzer has authored two books independently: “Marathon Woman,” an award-winning memoir, and “Running and Walking for Women Over 40.”  She has also co-authored a book with her husband, Roger Robinson, called “26.2 Marathon Stories.”

Besides the infamous Boston Marathon, Switzer’s career as a runner boasts some impressive finishes. She has 39 marathons under her belt, including one victory. In 1974, she won the women’s portion of the New York City Marathon – coming in 52nd overall – with a time of three hours, seven minutes and 29 seconds. In 1975, her finish time of two hours and 51 minutes in the Boston Marathon ranked sixth in the world and third in the USA in the women’s marathon. At 66 years old, she still runs, her latest marathon being the 2011 Berlin Marathon.

Switzer has received numerous awards for her work with women and in sports. She has received the Billie Jean King Award, been named “Runner of the Decade” by Runner’s World magazine and was awarded the Abebe Bikila Award, to name a few. In 2011, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

The event at Mount Holyoke College is part of the Weissman Center for Leadership’s “Power of Resilience” series. After the event, Switzer will be holding a book signing and answering questions.

“She’s very forthcoming and very laid back,” said Emily Weir, Mount Holyoke’s media relations specialist.

Maclane Walsh can be reached at [email protected]