Fifty years ago, Kathrine Switzer put on bib number 261, ran the Boston Marathon, and earned icon status when an official tried to yank her from the race. She became the first registered woman to run a marathon, and today she continues to run and to fight for women in the sports field.
By Sophia Melissa Caraballo Pineiro, June 21, 2016
Outside of the Niagara Falls Shopping Centre, groups of women in running shoes exited their cars and made their way toward the mall. Inside and around the center, various kiosks sold running skirts, wristbands, headbands, and t-shirts. Posters of Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to officially register and run the Boston Marathon, guided these women to an empty space that featured more posters of the running hero. The real Switzer, a few years older than her display-ready version and with dyed blond hair, greeted everyone with a bright smile. Switzer, 69, wore black Reebok workout pants, blue Reebok running shoes, a white t-shirt, and a Reebok jacket with the number 261, a nod to her sponsor and bib number from her first Boston Marathon written all over it. Her slender figure made her look taller than her 5-foot-7 frame. In one hand, she held Marathon Woman, one of three books she’s written on running (the other two were Running and Walking for Women Over 40 and 26.2 Marathon Stories). In the other hand, a pen scribbled autographs and generic messages for one of her hundreds of adoring fans. She leaned against a checkout counter. One of her staff members oversaw payments of $20 before handing books to Switzer for signing.
Once the line of fans reached between 40 or 50, she pulled away from her spot against the counter to address the small crowd: “I would like to invite you all to run with me next year at the Boston Marathon. It will be the 50th anniversary of my first run there,” she says and smiles to a nearby camera. After her announcement, she moves from person to person without a pause, shaking hands, answering questions, pausing for photos, moving, moving, moving. The crowd includes women who have traveled from as far as Florida and Georgia to be near her. They buy every book and every poster, and run any race that will get them one step closer to shaking her hand or taking a picture with her. In the span of two days, about 2,000 women and men showed up for the Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon, a two-day event that passes the Canadian Niagara Falls twice and seeks to empower women and provide them with a safe route to walk and run. “We wouldn’t be here without Kathrine. Not even 50 years ago could women run in a marathon without being attacked,” says Ross Robinson, NFWHM’s race director, as he looked over the crowds of people getting in line to meet with Switzer. He wore a red tie, which seemed out of place against his brilliant green t-shirt and khaki shorts. At the mall, some of the participants filtered through the various stands, finding their bib numbers and picking up goodie bags filled with wine bottles, official race t-shirts, and makeup samples. Many took photos with the blown-up version of the medals they hoped to earn, which featured a picture of the abolitionist Harriet Tubman. After the goodies and the pictures, runners had the opportunity to meet Switzer whose 261 Fearless foundation was served as one of the partners of the race. Few seemed interested in passing up that opportunity.