Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Forest for the Trees - or Who the Heck is K.V. Switzer?

In the 1980s, I was deep in the throes of track & field fever. The 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles had only solidified my burgeoning love of this new (to me, at least) sport.

I was in high school at the time and went back to school in the Fall still hyped up from the just-completed Olympics. In an English class we had to give speeches about people who inspired us.

I chose to wax poetic about my hero: Evelyn Ashford. I was a sprinter in high school and no one seemed cooler to me than Ashford (well, maybe Paul Molitor or Rick Springfield, but those are stories for another day.)

I'm sure I went on and on ad nauseum about this hero of mine. The teacher was nodding knowingly. Everyone else looked a little glazed over, but I soldiered on. It wasn't until after class I realized that, except for the teacher, I don't think anyone knew who I was talking about.

And I'm not sure I backed up the story enough at the beginning of my speech so people would know. That suspicion was confirmed when a classmate came up to me afterwards, laughing and kindly asked, "WHO IS Ashley Ashford?"

I had missed my mark, indeed.

For the record, THIS is Evelyn Ashford. Five-time Olympian (if you count the U.S.-boycotted 1980 Games), Olympic 100 meter champion, former 100 meter World Record Holder (5 years) and all around cool woman. My hero.

A little bit further back in U.S. Track & Field history is the late, great Wilma Rudolph. Although I admired her, I'm REALLY glad my speech wasn't about her. Pre-internet, ESPN and Biography Channel, my classmates definitely wouldn't have heard of her.

This all brings me to the point that we can immerse ourselves in something so deeply that we no longer remember what it's like NOT to know something.

Today, as I was reading this article in The New York Times, "Redefining Women's Work," the writer, Anita Gates, did a nice job previewing a PBS program that was debuting tonight. [Makers: Women Who Make America.] She provided highlights of the key points of the special including naming women who would be featured prominently.

However, I was struck by the oddity of one particular passage. Gates is describing this program, covering decades of the women's movement, and this is one part that stood out for her:

"The shocker is the 1967 Boston Marathon, then an all-male event. Its director reacts to a woman who had entered (using her first initial in registering) by running into the street and trying to remove her physically himself. Seriously. There are pictures."

This mention was so disjointed relative to the tone of the rest of the article. As though KATHRINE SWITZER was just "a woman" who decided to jump into a little race and was then never heard from again. And as though no one had ever heard this story before. AND there are PICTURES?

"A woman?" Seriously? This article was written more than 45 years after this "woman" broke down a huge barrier (and was almost tackled to the ground in attempting to do so.)

Gates mentioned Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Nora Ephron & Billie Jean King by name, because each of them, of course, went on to contribute greatly to the women's movment in their respective ways.

It seemed so strange to me that an article, written almost 46 years after an event considered historic, not just in running, and not even just within women's sports, but rather in the history of the women's movement generally, would refer to the great Kathrine Switzer simply as "a woman."

After her historic debut at the 1967 Boston Marathon, Switzer continues to be a great leader as a runner, a broadcaster, an author, a motivational speaker and, perhaps most importantly, a role model and champion of women runners. Certainly earning her the "right" to have her name among other female leaders of her era.

For the record, Switzer has run 39 marathons, including the 1974 New York City Marathon, which she won. The following year, her 2:51 Boston Marathon was ranked sixth in the world and third in the USA in women’s marathon. She is still running marathons today.

And, for those of you for whom she is not a household name, this is K.V. Switzer, as she registered for her marathon debut, aka Kathrine Switzer:

 And these are a few of those infamous 1967 Boston Marathon shots. Seriously.


For more information about Switzer:

The Real Story of Kathrine Switzer’s 1967 Boston Marathon (

Boston, 1967: When marathons were just for men ( News Magazine)

Kathrine Switzer's books:

Marathon Woman: Running the Race to Revolutionize Women's Sports

Running and Walking for Women Over 40 : The Road to Sanity and Vanity

26.2: Marathon Stories

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Joan Benoit Samuelson & Kathrine Switzer

There's an exciting week ahead for women runners as well as running fans in general.

From a personal standpoint, these celebrations of leaders in women's running couldn't have come at a better time. I'm working on a number of projects related to the subject and these two films are just the inspiration I need!

On Tuesday night, the PBS Series "Makers: Women Who Make America,"  will feature, among many noteworthy women, the amazing Kathrine Switzer. Switzer will talk about her ground-breaking, and, at times, harrowing experience running her first Boston Marathon in 1967.

"I often say that I started the Boston Marathon as a girl, and I finished the Boston Marathon as a grown woman." – K.V. Switzer

I wonder if feisty, funny women are natural leaders or if women have to develop a keen sense of humor to be leaders? Either way, Kathrine Switzer gets it. "The idea of running long distance was always considered very questionable for women because, you know, an arduous activity would mean that you were going to get big legs, and grow a moustache and hair on your chest and your uterus was going to fall out."

What: PBS series "Makers: Women Who Make America"
Where: PBS (Channel 2 in the Twin Cities)
When: Tuesday, February 26, 2013, 7-10:00 p.m. CST

[Fun fact for running history buffs: When the documentary briefly shows the list of results from "K. Switzer's" marathon debut, savvy Minnesota runners especially, might catch the fact that she finished just ahead of Minnesotan Alex Ratelle in that Boston Marathon. Ratelle, who died in 2012 at the age of 87, had run 21 consecutive Grandma's Marathons and in 1996 he was an easy choice for Grandma's inaugural Hall of Fame class along with Garry Bjorklund and Dick Beardsley.]

Then on Wednesday night the documentary film: There Is No Finish Line: The Joan Benoit Samuelson Story will debut in the Twin Cities. Watch an amazing trailer for the film at the link above, where you may also order a copy of the DVD.

"When she went through the tunnel she asked herself if she was ready for what was on the other side." – from There Is No Finish Line: The Joan Benoit Samuelson Story

"Joanie was a front-runner in the women's sports arena and she never left anyone out. She brought everybody with her." – from There Is No Finish Line: The Joan Benoit Samuelson Story

From the documentary description:

There Is No Finish line is a testament to the power that running can bring to our lives. This film celebrates the life and spirit of Joan Benoit Samuelson (Joanie), the first Olympic Gold medalist in the women's marathon.

Within the film are the historic moments of Joanie's improbable 1984 Olympic Gold Medal, her world record performances in Boston and Chicago, the time before Title IX, and her role in changing the perception of female running potential – breaking barriers and inspiring women and men thereafter.

The heart of the film follows Joanie as she is today, training on the trails in her home state of Maine, while still fitting in organic gardening, environmental conservation and time with her family. Her journey climaxes with an inspiring effort at the 2010 Chicago Marathon where she becomes the first woman to break 3-hours in five different decades!

In the end There Is No Finish line... proving whenever and however Joanie's competitive career ends, her spirit and life accomplishments will remain, firing us up to go after our passions, whatever they may be.

What: There Is No Finish Line: The Joan Benoit Samuelson Story, Twin Cities Premiere
When: Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
Where: Riverview Theater, 3800 42nd Ave., Minneapolis, Minn., 55406
How: Tickets are $10 in advance at or $13 at the door the night of the show.

In addition to Joanie's documentary, two other running-related documentaries will be shown:

"Running The Rockpile:" a documentary about the Mount Washington Road Race


"A Runner's Life:" a short film made by Minneapolis native Alex Nichols about his former college cross country and track coach at Colorado College, Ted Castaneda, a five-time All-American runner in the 1970s at the University of Colorado.

The event is presented by Twin Cities-based Moms on the Run and will include a special appearance by Olympian Carrie Tollefson.

It's going to be a great week!!!