Kathrine Switzer, Athlete Activist

Kathrine Switzer

Kathrine Switzer

In the world of runners, particularly female runners, Kathrine Switzer is a legend. On her website, Switzer is billed as an author, activist, and athlete; but these adjectives only begin to tell the story of this phenomenal woman.

1967 Boston Marathon

In 1967, Switzer unwittingly made headlines when she became the first woman to ever enter the Boston Marathon. This event would probably have simply been a note on the Boston Marathon timeline had it not been for the aggressive behavior caught on camera of race official, Jock Semple. Incensed that a woman had crashed his all male marathon, Semple attacked Switzer and tried to tear her bib numbers off her shirt (view actual footage here).

Undeterred, Switzer went on to complete the race in 4 hours, 20 minutes. Unfortunately, Semple had her disqualified (DQ’d) from the race and subsequently expelled from the sport’s governing body, the Amateur Athletic Union. However, Semple’s misogynist fervor backfired; instead of ‘frightening a mere girl into remaining in her place (my words not Semple’s)’, it ignited the activist in Switzer. Although it took the next five years, due to Switzer relentless campaigning, in 1972 women were finally allowed to ‘officially’ participate in the Boston Marathon.

The Olympic Women’s Marathon

Having been “radicalized” by her Boston Marathon experience, Switzer set her sites on a global mission. In 1972, she was instrumental in organizing the first women-only 10K in New York City, which attracted the attention of Avon. Four years later, Switzer and Avon joined forces to develop programs to empower women through sports. In March, 1978, the Avon International Women Marathon was launched in Atlanta. Female runners from nine countries participated. Avon Women’s Running Events were also held later that year in 27 different countries on five continents.

By 1980, an effort was started to have a women’s marathon included as an Olympic event. The Avon Women’s Marathons met the requirement that any new sport draw participants from at least 25 countries on three continents which convinced the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that a women’s marathon had enough support to be included in the Olympic Games. In 1984, Joan Beloit Samuelson became the first woman to win an Olympic Women’s Marathon event.


In addition to her activism, Switzer is an Emmy award winning TV commentator, keynote motivational speaker, and author of three books on running. She has also written numerous articles on running for many major magazines.

At a time when many women might be thinking of retirement, Switzer is still running. To mark the 50th anniversary of her historic entry onto the global marathon stage, Switzer plans to run the Boston Marathon in 2017. She will be 71 years old.


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