Her Fearless Run: Kathrine Switzer’s Historic Boston Marathon

Not gonna lie – I take it for granted that I have rarely encountered direct sexism. In fact, the only offender who immediately comes to mind is a loutish service rep who assumed I had a husband whose permission I’d need before committing to some expensive car repairs. (I made sure his manager heard ALL about that.) Stupid and annoying but not really diminishing. I have been lucky. So it’s hard for me to imagine being on the receiving end of the viciousness exhibited by the men who tried to physically keep Kathrine Switzer from being the first woman to officially participate in the Boston Marathon (a woman hid in some bushes and surreptitiously joined the race in progress the previous year). One attempted to grab Switzer as she ran past, and another came up behind her, screaming at her to hand over her race bib. Even the Syracuse running coach who had invited her to practice with the men’s team, as nice a guy as he was, told her she couldn’t run in the Boston race because “women can’t do that kind of distance.” Well, dozens of miles and blisters later (and a pair of tennis shoes with holes cut in them to fit over her swollen toes), she was more than ready to prove him wrong. Still, after the two violent encounters, she did consider dropping out, but she knew she wasn’t running the race just for herself and kept going. She finished in four hours and 20 minutes, blazing the trail for the thousands of women who participate in the race now. In 2017, 50 years after her groundbreaking run, Switzer ran the Boston Marathon again and her bib number was retired. Effectively scattered throughout Chaffee’s narrative is the sound of a runner’s shoes: “pat, pat, pat, pat, pat, pat, pat, pat,” echoing a marathoner’s pacing and persistence. Rooney’s illustrations are big, bright, and bold, with the face of the man who tried to take Switzer’s race bib being the most evocative – ugly with rage and easily symbolic of all intolerance. This an inspiring account of a woman who didn’t just stand up in the face of discrimination – she ran right at it.

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