Three numbers — 2-6-1 — changed Kathrine Switzer’s life. She hopes they’ll change the lives of countless other women, too.
Switzer wore those numbers on April 19, 1967, when Boston Marathon race director Jock Semple tried to pull her off the course because she was a woman. She recently created 261 Fearless Inc. (www.261fearless.org), a nonprofit devoted to empowering and connecting women around the world through running and walking.
She showed off one of her two Boston Marathon bibs while speaking at Thursday’s meeting of the Yakima Rotary Club. Switzer and her husband, Roger Robinson — another esteemed runner, running advocate and writer — are guests of the Yakima River Canyon Marathon, which takes place Saturday.
“My story today is about taking negatives and turning them into positives,” said Switzer, 69, the first woman to run Boston as a numbered entry. She was introduced by Robinson and a clip from “Makers: Women Who Make America,” a 2013 documentary.
“I often say I started the Boston Marathon as a girl and I finished the Boston Marathon as a grown woman,” she says in the documentary.
Running became part of Switzer’s life when she was a 12-year-old who wanted to make her school’s field hockey team. Her father suggested that she run a mile a day to get fit.
She made the team and kept running. With almost no options for girls and women to participate in sports, she decided that writing about sports was the next best thing and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from Syracuse University.
An undergrad at Syracuse when she ran Boston at age 19, she had trained with men’s cross-country coach Arnie Briggs and proved to him that she could run 26 miles, 385 yards. But Semple was enraged when he saw her on the course that cold, blustery day.