October 23, 2012
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Kathrine Switzer speaks at SUNY Cortland Monday. Switzer was one of the first women to run in the Boston Marathon.
Kathrine Switzer entered the Boston Marathon in 1967, not knowing the 4-hour, 20-minute experience would set her on a path opening up sports to women.
Switzer made history in the race by becoming the first registered woman to run a marathon, at one point evading a race director who chased her down and tried to rip off her number — 461 — saying women had no place in the traditionally all-male event.
Finishing that race took on a different meaning for Switzer after that, because then she realized she represented women everywhere who were being held back.
“I made the decision I was going to finish the race no matter what, because if I didn’t finish, it would be seen as a funny thing ... or a publicity stunt,” Switzer told a group of SUNY Cortland students at Sperry Hall on Monday. Now a New Paltz resident, Switzer’s talk was sponsored by the college’s sport management club and campus artist and lecture series.
Now 65, Switzer started running at age 12, when her father discouraged her from becoming a cheerleader, saying one should engage in life, not spectate.
During the Boston race, she made it her life goal to put women on equal footing with men in sports.
Switzer became a sports broadcaster and public speaker after the publicity from the Boston Marathon. She formed her own company, AtAlanta Sports Promotions Inc., promoting and publicizing events and creating running opportunities for women worldwide.
She crusaded successfully for the woman’s marathon to become a recognized Olympic event, and in 1972 the Boston Marathon was opened to women.
Switzer has run over 40 marathons and improved her times, being the first female finisher at the New York City Marathon in 1974 and making a personal best time of 2 hours and 51 minutes at the Boston Marathon in 1975.
She has run marathons in New Zealand, where she lives part of the year, and Kenya, where a game preserve is opened once yearly for the event and promotes natural conservation.
At 19, Switzer transferred to Syracuse University to study journalism, hoping to do something with sports journalism because at the time women had no place in sports as athletes.
She joined the male cross country team at SU and started training with a mentor who at first challenged her desire to run a marathon but ended up being her biggest supporter, running the Boston Marathon with her and a few friends.
Switzer said her feelings went from terror and embarrassment from the race director’s attack, to anger during the Boston race. During the run she realized why other women were not running the race with her: they had not had the same opportunities she had.
Switzer told students Monday of the importance of following your passion and stressed that sometimes the worst thing that happens to you can turn out to be the best thing. She urged students to take problems and look at them from a different angle, saying this is key to finding solutions and improving their lives.
Switzer also urged students to think about sports careers, saying they truly are recession proof because people will never give up the activities that promote their well-being.
As she signed copies of her book “Marathon Woman” after the presentation, Switzer gave students words of encouragement and listened to their athletic aspirations.
Emily Coley, a junior, said after the presentation that she is on the cross country team at SUNY Cortland and was inspired by Switzer.
“I never grew up when there wasn’t sports for women,” Coley said. “So I’m thankful for her that I get to run today.”
Johnathan Rodriguez, a senior, picked up several copies of Switzer’s book after the talk. He said he liked that Switzer had “real world” knowledge and advice.
He said he was inspired how “one single event in life changed her perspective on life.”
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