Kathrine decided to run the Boston Marathon when the predominant mindset was "women are too fragile to run long distances". She became an activist for Women's rights.
Kathrine finished the race, ahead of many men. She was famously attacked during the race, and pictures of the incident became recognised Worldwide.
Kathrine Switzer was a Syracuse Journalism student. In 1967, she registered to run the Boston Marathon. To do so, Kathrine used her official Amateur Athletic Union number. She paid the entry fee and even provided the necessary fitness certificate. She formalised her entry by signing the form using her usual signature, K. V. Switzer. Therefore, Kathrine was officially registered to run the 1967 Boston Marathon.
Beforehand, Kathrine made sure that she wasn’t breaking any rule - the rule book made no mention of gender.
She never tried to hide the fact that she was a woman.
In fact, before the race start, she fraternised with some of the other contestants, pleased to have a woman amongst them.
At that time, the dominant mindset was that “women were too fragile to run such long distances”. In fact, Arnie Briggs, Kathrine’s coach, made her run the distance in practice, before agreeing to run the Marathon with her. He, too, wasn’t sure she would be able to finish.
Early on in the race, the press truck spotted Kathrine’s group and were surprised to see a woman officially running. That surprise quickly evolved into excitement, and in no time press photographers were capturing the unexpected event.
The media frenzy drew attention to the group.
All of a sudden, a man in an overcoat tried to grab Kathrine as she passed. He failed, being able to only seize Kathrine’s glove.
She dismissed the incident, assuming the man was a spectator. But she caught a glimpse of the Boston Athletic Association ribbon on the man’s jacket.
He was an official member of the organisation.
What the hell just happened?
Moments later, she heard strong footsteps approaching behind the group. Kathrine quickly turned around. An enraged man, the same man, tried to grab her again.
Give me back my numbers, he shouted.
Leaver her alone, Jock. I've trained her, she's ok, leave her alone, Arnie replied
Stay out of this, Arnie, the man replied
That official was Jock Semple, long-time associated with the Boston Marathon who, at one point, held the position of race co-director.
The press witnessed the unfolding madness and the group continued running.
Jock Semple prepared a new attempt to stop Kathrine from running, but he wasn’t expecting “Big” Tom Miller. Tom Miller was Kathrine’s boyfriend at the time, a former football player and nationally ranked hammer thrower.
“Big” Tom used his football experience and, with his elbow, he blocked and threw the official into the ground. Unsure of the severity of the blow, the group continued to run. Jock Semple didn't bother the group again, and they continued running.
The press was following the group and documented the altercation between with Jock Semple.
The group kept going, and eventually finished the race, despite the adverse weather conditions, the physical toll and the psychological challenge.
Happy to have finished and with the clash out of their minds, the group drove back to Syracuse, New York. On their drive back, they stopped for some gas and coffee. And that's when they discovered: much to their surprise, they were all over the news!
"The woman who finished the Boston Marathon", the press wrote
The incident was in all the headlines. All of a sudden, they were famous. It was big. It was huge! And it caught fire!
What could have been an isolated incident grew to enormous proportions. The events that unfolded that day became a milestone in the fight form Women's Rights. The visibility of the episode was such that it became impossible to put that genie back in the bottle.
By 1972 the Boston Marathon officially accepted Women athletes. Not long after that, in 1984, a Women Marathon was run for the first time in the history of the Olympic Games.
Kathrine went on to become an activist for Women's Rights, advocating for equal access to sport events for female athletes. She entered, was invited to run and even founded an extensive number of races, lobbying for equal access to participation in sports events.
“Iconic athlete, sports and social advocate, author, and Emmy award-winning television commentator, Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to officially enter and run the Boston Marathon. She has been honored widely for her achievements, most recently being inducted into the USA National Women’s Hall of Fame for creating positive social change.”
If you want to support Kathrine’s work, please consider buying her books:
Gender bias in recruitment
- Gender does not dictate whether people can or cannot do something. Their skills do.
- Race officials were unaware of Kathrine's gender. Analogously, recruiters should be unaware of applicants' gender as well.
- Evaluating applicants based on their gender, race, age or ethnicity tells us nothing about their abilities to perform a certain role. That's just noise affecting your decision process.
- Discover how Sigma Polaris' AI solution helps companies recruit in by objectively assessing applicant's skills.
I used to run as a hobby. In my prime, I clocked under 39 minutes for a 10km race. That’s about 6:21 minutes per mille, on a 6.25 miles run (yes, I'm proud). During that period, I had the honour to race with Rosa Mota. She won the second Women Olympic Marathon, in Seoul, 1988. It's fair to assume that Kathrine's actions contributed to women being able to run the Marathon in the Olympic Games.
Read more about Kathrine Switzer: