'No Dame Ever Ran No Marathon'

By Annie Shreffler

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April 14, 2012

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Katherine Switzer, of Syracuse, NY, found herself about to be thrown out of the Boston Marathon when a husky companion, Thomas Miller, threw a block that tossed a race official out of the running instead. (April 19, 1967 in Hopkinton, Mass. Photo: AP)

Listen to Morning Edition host Bob Seay's extended interview with Katherine Switzer.

BOSTON — As a student running with the men's track team at Syracuse University, Katherine Switzer challenged her coach to train her for the 1967 Boston Marathon, to which he retorted, "No dame ever ran no marathon!"

He may not have heard of Roberta Gibbs, who in 1966, hid in the bushes near the start of the marathon in Hopkinton, Mass., and completed the race—without a number—disguised in her brother's running gear. She was hailed after the event for disproving the position held by many sports officials that women were incapable of running such distances.

In 1967, when Switzer outran her coach over 31 miles, he declared her eligible to enter the Boston Marathon. He accompanied her, and even defended her, as she became the first woman to finish the Boston Marathon with a number: 261.

Not long after the start of the run, infuriated race official Jock Semple tried to pull Switzer off the course, establishing the infamous moment in race history and beginning Switzer's long career as a runner, author and advocate for women's athletics. She is now a well-known speaker and champion of Title IX, which 40 years ago made it illegal for any organization receiving federal funds to discriminate against women, and became the basis for starting women's high school and collegiate sports programs.

Switzer also helped to establish a women's marathon as an official event in the Olympic games. The first time women ran in an Olympic marathon was in 1984, and American Joan Benoit became the first women's Olympic marathon champion. Benoit returns to Boston to run this year in the 116th Boston Marathon.

In 1972, women were finally allowed to register for the Boston Marathon, and that year, Nina Kuscsik became the first woman to officially complete the race. The Boston Athletic Association, host of the Boston Marathon, paid tribute during this year's annual Champions’ Breakfast to the women who ran as official members of the 76th marathon forty years ago: Kuscsik, Switzer, Pat Barrett, Sara Mae Berman and Valerie Rogosheske, as well as poineering runner Robera Gibbs.

In the extended interview with WGBH Morning Edition host Bob Seay, you can hear Switzer recall how on that day 45 years ago,  she was frightened and surprised by Semple's reaction and took her coaches advice to "run like hell." Five years later, she and Semple buried the hatchet and went on to become friends. 

"Every day I thank Jock Semple for attacking me in the race because he gave me a fabulous vehicle on which to campaign for women's equal rights," Switzer said.

Switzer was a 2011 inductee to the National Women's Hall of Fame, which recognizes women whose work impacts and improves society and promotes equality.

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