Soon after Kathrine Switzer was attacked by a race official early in her effort to become the first woman to officially enter and complete the Boston Marathon, an enormous weight was lifted off her shoulder.
Her steps became lighter when she decided to finish.
“When I was attacked by Jock Semple, it was the worst thing that happened in my life but it became the best thing that happened in my life,” Switzer told The Pantagraph on Tuesday at the 17th annual Women’s Health Night, presented by Illinois Heart & Lung Foundation at Illinois State University’s Bone Student Center. Switzer was the keynote speaker and also led a 1.5-mile fun run.
“It was terrifying,” Switzer recalled of the moment at the 1967 marathon when Semple ran up behind her during the race, grabbed her, flung her back, then screamed at her to give him her bib number — 261 — as he tried to rip it off her shirt. Even after her boyfriend, who also was running, knocked Semple down, Switzer was embarrassed as she resumed her run.
A short distance later, Switzer realized: “This is how women feel when they aren’t welcome. I knew at that moment that I had to finish that race. An enormous weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
“Then at 20 to 21 miles, when you’re supposed to be running out of gas, I let all the anger go. I knew I had to finish the race to create opportunities for women.”