When You Think Of Trailblazers, Remember Katherine Switzer

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Fifty years ago Switzer broke the gender line at The Boston Marathon.


Have you ever heard of the name, Katherine Switzer? Perhaps you read her best-selling book, Marathon Woman. It’s about her experience running the 1967 Boston Marathon.

She made history that day.

Katherine was the first registered women to run that race. Women weren’t allowed to compete, but she did anyway, registering under the name “K.V. Switzer,” her byline for writing papers as a Syracuse University student.

Katherine was issued the bib number, 261, and began the race. Her boyfriend at the time, Tom Miller, ran with her. Miller was an imposing figure, a 235-pound, ex-All America SU football player and nationally-ranked hammer thrower.

But as race officials drove by one of them mentioned to Jock Semple, the lead official, that a women was running the Marathon. Semple jumped off the vehicle and yelled, “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers.” Tom Miller, then shoved Semple out of the way.

Photographs and videos were taken of the incident, which soon got international attention. Switzer kept on running and finished the race in 4 hours and 20 minutes.

The outcome led to controversy. Boston Athletic Association director Will Cloney said, “Woman can’t run in the Marathon because 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 an unauthorized person, even a man.

“If that girl were my daughter I would spank her,” said Will Cloney, 1967”

That was then. A few years later–in 1972 to be exact–the rules changed and women were permitted to run in the Marathon. And, this year, the Boston Athletic Association said it would no longer issue Bib Number 261 to honor Switzer.

For her part, Switzer would go on to run in many marathons, including her victory in the 1974 New York City Marathon. But she’ll be forever remembered for what she did in 1967 in Boston.

This year Switzer’s story will intersect with mine. In December we’ll both run in the San Antonio Marathon, where I’ll run the half marathon.

It will be an honor to run with her.

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About Matthew Paris

I grew up an avid Houston sports fan. After graduating from Texas Tech University in Theater and English Literature I worked as a marketing rep and coach for I9 Sports, coaching baseball, flag football, soccer, and basketball. I’m currently with Austin Sports Academy as a marketing coordinator, baseball and football coach, and coordinator of middle school and high school open play nights. I’ve written three short films for Looknow Productions and have also written articles on film marketing, producing, and directing. I really enjoy writing about sports and being an active contributor to The Sports Column.



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