Kathrine Switzer

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Kathrine Switzer
Kathrine Switzer at the 2011 Berlin Marathon Expo.jpg
Kathrine Switzer at the 2011 Berlin Marathon expo
Personal information
Born (1947-01-05) January 5, 1947 (age 74)
Amberg, Germany
EducationGeorge C. Marshall High School
Alma materSyracuse University
OccupationRunner and author
Spouse(s)Tom Miller (1968–1973)
Philip Schaub
Roger Robinson (m. 1987)

Kathrine Virginia Switzer (born January 5, 1947, in Amberg, Germany)[1] is an American marathon runner, author, and television commentator.[2]

In 1967, she became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as an officially registered competitor.[3] During her run, race manager Jock Semple assaulted Switzer, trying to grab her bib number and stop her from competing. After knocking down Switzer's trainer and fellow runner Arnie Briggs when he tried to protect her, Semple was shoved to the ground by Switzer's boyfriend, Thomas Miller, who was running with her, and she completed the race.[3]

The AAU banned women from competing in races against men as a result of her run, and it was not until 1972 that the Boston Marathon established an official women's race.[4]

Life and career[edit]

Switzer was born in Amberg, Germany, the daughter of a major in the United States Army. Her family returned to the United States in 1949.[5] She graduated from George C. Marshall High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, then attended Lynchburg College.[6] She transferred to Syracuse University in 1967, where she studied journalism and English literature.[7][6] She earned a bachelor's degree there in 1968 and a master's degree in 1972.

1967 Boston Marathon[edit]

After Switzer's coach, Arnie Briggs, insisted a marathon was too far for a "fragile woman" to run,[8] he conceded: "If any woman could do it, you could, but you would have to prove it to me. If you ran the distance in practice, I’d be the first to take you to Boston."[3] Switzer trained with him for the 1967 Boston Marathon, which she completed under entry number 261 as a member of the Syracuse Harriers athletic club.[7] As a result of her run, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) barred women from taking part in races with men.[9] It took five more years before the Boston Marathon ran its first official women's race. Her finishing time of approximately 4 hours and 20 minutes was nearly an hour behind the first female finisher, Roberta "Bobbi" Gibb, who had been refused a race registration[10] and was not attacked during the race.[11]

Having checked that the rule book for the marathon made no mention of gender, Switzer registered using her official AAU number, the full race fee, and a properly acquired certificate of fitness. She signed the form "as I always sign my name, K.V. Switzer."[3] She also stated that her name had been misspelled on her birth certificate, so she often used her initials to avoid confusion.[12] Switzer's father was supportive of his daughter's entry into the race, and on race day, other runners assembling for the start greeted her with support and enthusiasm, leading her to feel "very welcome".[3]

However, race officials opposed women competing in the marathon, and photographs of race manager Jock Semple attempting to rip Switzer's number off were widespread in the media.[13]

Semple repeatedly assaulted Switzer during the race in an attempt to remove her bib number and prevent her from continuing to compete.[3][14] In her memoir, she wrote:

Instinctively I jerked my head around quickly and looked square into the most vicious face I'd ever seen. A big man, a huge man, with bared teeth was set to pounce, and before I could react he grabbed my shoulder and flung me back, screaming, "Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!"[15]

Semple knocked down Switzer's coach and fellow competitor, Arnie Briggs, when Briggs attempted to protect Switzer.[3] Semple succeeded in removing one of Switzer's gloves and only stopped his attacks when Switzer's boyfriend, Tom Miller, a 235-pound ex-football player and nationally ranked hammer thrower who was running with her, knocked him to the ground.[3][16][17][18][19] Photographs taken of the incident made world headlines.[3][20] Semple complained in a 1968 interview about Miller's success in stopping his assault, saying, "That guy's a hammer thrower, for cripes' sake!"[13]

Semple later claimed that Switzer had been issued a number through an "oversight" in the entry screening process.[21]

Boston Athletic Association director Will Cloney—who had rejected Gibb's entry into the 1966 Boston Marathon, claimed that women were physiologically incapable of running 26 miles[10]—was asked his opinion of Switzer competing in the race. Although the rule book made no mention of gender and Switzer had a valid race registration,[3] Cloney said: "Women can't run in the Marathon because the rules forbid it. Unless we have rules, society will be in chaos. I don't make the rules, but I try to carry them out. We have no space in the Marathon for any unauthorized person, even a man. If that girl were my daughter, I would spank her."[7]

Because of Switzer's official entry into and completion of the marathon, the AAU barred women from all competitions with male runners, with violators losing the right to compete in any race.[9] Switzer, with other female runners, tried to convince the Boston Athletic Association to allow women to participate in the marathon. Finally, in 1972, the Boston Marathon established an official women's race.[4]

According to Switzer, she understood the gravity of her participation and accomplishment:

I knew if I quit, nobody would ever believe that women had the capability to run 26-plus miles. If I quit, everybody would say it was a publicity stunt. If I quit, it would set women's sports back, way back, instead of forward. If I quit, I'd never run Boston. If I quit, Jock Semple and all those like him would win. My fear and humiliation turned to anger.[3]

Later competition, work, and honors[edit]

Switzer was the women's winner of the 1974 New York City Marathon, with a time of 3:07:29 (59th overall).[22][23] Her personal best time is 2:51:37, at Boston in 1975.[24]

Switzer was named Female Runner of the Decade (1967–77) by Runner's World Magazine. She later became a television commentator for marathons, starting with the 1984 Olympic women's marathon, and received an Emmy Award for her work.[4][25] In 1979, the Supersisters trading card set was produced and distributed; one of the cards featured Switzer's name and picture.[26]

Switzer wrote Running and Walking for Women over 40 in 1997. She released her memoir, Marathon Woman, in April 2007, on the 40th anniversary of her first running of the Boston Marathon. In April 2008, Marathon Woman won the Billie Award for journalism for its portrayal of women in sports.[27]

Switzer has said that when she attends the Boston Marathon, she is glad to see other female runners:

When I go to the Boston Marathon now, I have wet shoulders—women fall into my arms crying. They're weeping for joy because running has changed their lives. They feel they can do anything.

— Kathrine Switzer, The Nation (2013)[28]

She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2011 for creating a social revolution by empowering women around the world through running.[4] Since 1967, she has worked to improve running opportunities for women.[29]

In 2015, Switzer launched a global non-profit called 261 Fearless with an ambassador program, club training system, and events. 261 Fearless uses running as a means to empower women to overcome life obstacles and embrace healthy living.[30][31]

For the 2017 Boston Marathon—her ninth time running the race, and the 50th anniversary of her first time—she was assigned bib number 261, the same number she had been assigned in 1967. She was placed in wave 1 and corral 1 and finished in 4:44:31.[32] She was leading a team of runners from 261 Fearless, and rather than being the only woman officially in the race like in 1967, she was joined by over 13,700 women—almost half of the total runners.[33] That same year, the Boston Athletic Association announced it would not assign bib number 261 to any future runners, as an honor for Switzer.[34]

Also in 2017, she ran the New York City Marathon for the first time since 1974; she finished in 4:48:21.[35]

In May 2018, Switzer was the commencement speaker at the 164th commencement of Syracuse University,[36][37] and received an honorary doctorate of humane letters degree.[38]

Personal life[edit]

In 1968, Switzer married Tom Miller, the man who had put an end to Semple's attack in 1967. They divorced in 1973. Switzer married and divorced public relations executive Philip Schaub.[39] She married British-born runner and author Roger Robinson in 1987.[40][41]

Switzer eventually made amends with Semple after he changed his mind with regard to women in sports. The two became close friends, and she last visited him shortly before Semple's death in 1988.[42]


Year Competition Venue Position Notes
Representing the  United States
1974 New York City Marathon New York, United States 1st 3:07:29[22]
1975 Boston Marathon Boston, Massachusetts, United States 2nd 2:51:37[24]


  1. ^ Milde, Horst (June 2, 2010). "Kathrine Switzer and Roger Robinson visit the Berlin Sports Museum". German Road Races e.V. Archived from the original on March 8, 2014. Retrieved March 19, 2013.
  2. ^ Lorge Butler, Sarah (April 12, 2012). "How Kathrine Switzer paved the way". ESPN. Retrieved July 13, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Switzer, Kathrine (April 4, 2017). Marathon Woman (4th ed.). Da Capo Press Inc. ISBN 978-0306825651. Archived from the original on April 20, 2020. Retrieved April 24, 2020. We checked the rule book and entry form; there was nothing about gender in the marathon. I filled in my AAU number, plunked down $3 cash as entry fee, signed as I always sign my name, 'K.V. Switzer,' and went to the university infirmary to get a fitness certificate.
  4. ^ a b c d Lodge, Denise (April 16, 2012). "Kathrine Switzer: Empowerment through Running". Impowerage Magazine. Retrieved May 10, 2012.
  5. ^ Milde, Horst (January 5, 2012). "Katherine Switzer 65 Jahre - GRATULATION der Laufpionierin!". German Road Races e.V. (in German). Archived from the original on March 29, 2014. Retrieved March 19, 2013.
  6. ^ a b 1949-, Derderian, Tom (1996). Boston Marathon : the first century of the world's premier running event. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. p. 302. ISBN 0880114797. OCLC 33160969.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ a b c "Lady With Desire to Run Crashed Marathon" (PDF). The New York Times. April 23, 1967. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 6, 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2014.
  8. ^ King, Jennifer (August 22, 2015). "First women graduate from US Army Ranger School as gender barriers continue to fall". Australian Broadcasting Commission. Archived from the original on August 22, 2015.
  9. ^ a b Romanelli, Elaine (1979). "Women in Sports and Games". In O'Neill, Lois Decker (ed.). The Women's Book of World Records and Achievements. Anchor Press. p. 576. ISBN 0-385-12733-2. [Switzer's] run created such a stir that the AAU [...] barred women from all competition with men in these events on pain of losing all rights to compete.
  10. ^ a b Gibbs, Roberta "Bobbi". "Roberta "Bobbi" Gibb - A Run of One's Own". Women's Sports Foundation.
  11. ^ "BAA Marathon Results".
  12. ^ Grinberg, Emanuella. "1st woman to officially run Boston Marathon to do it again 50 years later". CNN. Retrieved April 17, 2017.
  13. ^ a b Cope, Myron (April 22, 1968). "Angry Overseer Of The Marathon". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved April 26, 2020. In among the serious runners, fast and not so fast, are the characters: [...]; and, of course, women, who trot along as unofficial entrants, denied numbers for their chests. All of these poseurs, few of whom come close to finishing the race, send a shudder up the spine of John Duncan Semple, the irascible, 64-year-old Scot who is Mr. Boston Marathon himself.
  14. ^ Concannon, Joe (April 5, 1987). "1967: Semple Meets Switzer. Versions vary but everyone remembers that infamous marathon". Boston Globe.
  15. ^ Emanuella Grinberg. "1st woman to officially run Boston Marathon to do it again 50 years later". CNN. Retrieved April 17, 2017.
  16. ^ "Womens Running Icon 7" (PDF). Runner's World.
  17. ^ Sarah Lorge Butler (April 12, 2012). "How Kathrine Switzer paved the way". ESPNW. Retrieved March 27, 2017.
  18. ^ "The Girl Who Started It All". Runner's World. March 6, 2007. Retrieved March 27, 2017.
  19. ^ Kathrine Switzer (April 16, 2012). "Boston, 1967: When marathons were just for men". BBC. Retrieved March 27, 2017.
  20. ^ PBSAmerica (August 15, 2013). "MAKERS: Women Who Make America (Ep1) Awakening - PBS America" – via YouTube.
  21. ^ Semple, Jock; Kelley, John J.; Murphy, Tom (1981). Just Call Me Jock: The Story of Jock Semple, Boston's Mr. Marathon. Waterford Publishing. pp. 7, 114–118. ISBN 978-0942052015.
  22. ^ a b Switzer, Kathrine (2007). Marathon Woman. New York: Carroll & Graf. p. 270. ISBN 978-0-7867-1967-9.
  23. ^ "Home". March 26, 2012.
  24. ^ a b Switzer, Kathrine (2007). Marathon Woman. New York: Carroll & Graf. p. 290. ISBN 978-0-7867-1967-9.
  25. ^ Tom Jackman (September 23, 2012). "Kathrine Switzer, Boston Marathon women's pioneer, started running in Dunn Loring, went to Marshall HS". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 27, 2017.
  26. ^ Wulf, Steve (March 23, 2015). "Supersisters: Original Roster". ESPN. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  27. ^ "Kathrine Switzer Website". Retrieved April 15, 2014.
  28. ^ Zirin, Dave (April 15, 2013). "The Boston Marathon: All My Tears, All My Love". The Nation. Archived from the original on January 15, 2016.
  29. ^ "Boston, 1967: When marathons were just for men". BBC News. April 16, 2012. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  30. ^ "Kathrine Switzer Launches Global Non-Profit 261 Fearless, Inc. with an Ambassador Program, Club Training System and Events". Running USA. October 20, 2015. Retrieved May 17, 2018.
  31. ^ "About 261 Fearless". 261 Fearless. Retrieved May 17, 2018.
  32. ^ "B.A.A. Marathon 2017: Entry List".
  33. ^ "The Boston Marathon: How Kathrine Switzer's 261 Became a Symbol for Women in Sports". Newsweek. April 16, 2017. Retrieved May 17, 2018.
  34. ^ "Boston Marathon retires Bib No. 261 for women's pioneer". Miami Herald.
  35. ^ "Kevin Hart gets serious, beats Tiki Barber in NYC Marathon". Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 7, 2017.
  36. ^ "Kathrine Switzer picked to be Syracuse University commencement speaker". syracuse.com. Retrieved May 14, 2018.
  37. ^ "All the Details on Commencement 2018". SU News. Retrieved May 14, 2018.
  38. ^ "Three to Receive Honorary Degrees at 2018 Commencement". SU News. Retrieved May 14, 2018.
  39. ^ "When Avon Called, Kathy Switzer Gave Up the Marathon to Organize Women's Racing". People Magazine. May 28, 1979.
  40. ^ Switzer, Kathrine (2007). Marathon Woman. New York: Carroll & Graf. pp. 132–33, 203–04, 382–83. ISBN 978-0-7867-1967-9.
  41. ^ Lynch, M.A.C. (September 30, 2014). "Legendary Runners Slow Down Long Enough To Marry". Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  42. ^ "Jock Semple dies at 84". The Berkshire Eagle. UPI. March 10, 1988. Retrieved December 18, 2020.

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