Kathrine Switzer

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Kathrine Switzer
Kathrine Switzer at the 2011 Berlin Marathon Expo.jpg
Kathrine Switzer at the 2011 Berlin Marathon expo
Personal information
Born (1947-01-05) January 5, 1947 (age 74)
Amberg, Germany
Education George C. Marshall High School
Alma mater Syracuse University
OccupationRunner and author
Spouse(s)Tom Miller (1968–1973)
Philip Schaub
Roger Robinson (m. 1987)
Website www.kathrineswitzer.com

Kathrine Virginia Switzer (born January 5, 1947, in Amberg, Germany) [1] is an American marathon runner, author, and television commentator. [2]


In 1967, she became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as an officially registered competitor. [3] During her run, race manager Jock Semple assaulted Switzer, trying to grab her bib number and stop her from competing. After knocking down Switzer's trainer and fellow runner Arnie Briggs when he tried to protect her, Semple was shoved to the ground by Switzer's boyfriend, Thomas Miller, who was running with her, and she completed the race. [3]

The AAU banned women from competing in races against men as a result of her run, and it was not until 1972 that the Boston Marathon established an official women's race. [4]

Life and career

Switzer was born in Amberg, Germany, the daughter of a major in the United States Army. Her family returned to the United States in 1949. [5] She graduated from George C. Marshall High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, then attended Lynchburg College. [6] She transferred to Syracuse University in 1967, where she studied journalism and English literature. [7] [6] She earned a bachelor's degree there in 1968 and a master's degree in 1972.

1967 Boston Marathon

After Switzer's coach, Arnie Briggs, insisted a marathon was too far for a "fragile woman" to run, [8] he conceded: "If any woman could do it, you could, but you would have to prove it to me. If you ran the distance in practice, I’d be the first to take you to Boston." [3] Switzer trained with him for the 1967 Boston Marathon, which she completed under entry number 261 as a member of the Syracuse Harriers athletic club. [7] As a result of her run, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) barred women from taking part in races with men. [9] It took five more years before the Boston Marathon ran its first official women's race. Her finishing time of approximately 4 hours and 20 minutes was nearly an hour behind the first female finisher, Roberta "Bobbi" Gibb, who had been refused a race registration [10] and was not attacked during the race. [11]

Having checked that the rule book for the marathon made no mention of gender, Switzer registered using her official AAU number, the full race fee, and a properly acquired certificate of fitness. She signed the form "as I always sign my name, K.V. Switzer." [3] She also stated that her name had been misspelled on her birth certificate, so she often used her initials to avoid confusion. [12] Switzer's father was supportive of his daughter's entry into the race, and on race day, other runners assembling for the start greeted her with support and enthusiasm, leading her to feel "very welcome". [3]

However, race officials opposed women competing in the marathon, and photographs of race manager Jock Semple attempting to rip Switzer's number off were widespread in the media. [13]

Semple repeatedly assaulted Switzer during the race in an attempt to remove her bib number and prevent her from continuing to compete. [3] [14] In her memoir, she wrote:

Instinctively I jerked my head around quickly and looked square into the most vicious face I'd ever seen. A big man, a huge man, with bared teeth was set to pounce, and before I could react he grabbed my shoulder and flung me back, screaming, "Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!" [15]

Semple knocked down Switzer's coach and fellow competitor, Arnie Briggs, when Briggs attempted to protect Switzer. [3] Semple succeeded in removing one of Switzer's gloves and only stopped his attacks when Switzer's boyfriend, Tom Miller, a 235-pound ex-football player and nationally ranked hammer thrower who was running with her, knocked him to the ground. [3] [16] [17] [18] [19] Photographs taken of the incident made world headlines. [3] [20] Semple complained in a 1968 interview about Miller's success in stopping his assault, saying, "That guy's a hammer thrower, for cripes' sake!" [13]

Semple later claimed that Switzer had been issued a number through an "oversight" in the entry screening process. [21]

Boston Athletic Association director Will Cloney—who had rejected Gibb's entry into the 1966 Boston Marathon, claimed that women were physiologically incapable of running 26 miles [10] —was asked his opinion of Switzer competing in the race. Although the rule book made no mention of gender and Switzer had a valid race registration, [3] Cloney said: "Women can't run in the Marathon because the 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 any unauthorized person, even a man. If that girl were my daughter, I would spank her." [7]

Because of Switzer's official entry into and completion of the marathon, the AAU barred women from all competitions with male runners, with violators losing the right to compete in any race. [9] Switzer, with other female runners, tried to convince the Boston Athletic Association to allow women to participate in the marathon. Finally, in 1972, the Boston Marathon established an official women's race. [4]

According to Switzer, she understood the gravity of her participation and accomplishment:

I knew if I quit, nobody would ever believe that women had the capability to run 26-plus miles. If I quit, everybody would say it was a publicity stunt. If I quit, it would set women's sports back, way back, instead of forward. If I quit, I'd never run Boston. If I quit, Jock Semple and all those like him would win. My fear and humiliation turned to anger. [3]

Later competition, work, and honors

Switzer was the women's winner of the 1974 New York City Marathon, with a time of 3:07:29 (59th overall). [22] [23] Her personal best time is 2:51:37, at Boston in 1975. [24]

Switzer was named Female Runner of the Decade (1967–77) by Runner's World Magazine . She later became a television commentator for marathons, starting with the 1984 Olympic women's marathon, and received an Emmy Award for her work. [4] [25] In 1979, the Supersisters trading card set was produced and distributed; one of the cards featured Switzer's name and picture. [26]

Switzer wrote Running and Walking for Women over 40 in 1997. She released her memoir, Marathon Woman, in April 2007, on the 40th anniversary of her first running of the Boston Marathon. In April 2008, Marathon Woman won the Billie Award for journalism for its portrayal of women in sports. [27]

Switzer has said that when she attends the Boston Marathon, she is glad to see other female runners:

When I go to the Boston Marathon now, I have wet shoulders—women fall into my arms crying. They're weeping for joy because running has changed their lives. They feel they can do anything.

Kathrine Switzer, The Nation (2013) [28]

She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2011 for creating a social revolution by empowering women around the world through running. [4] Since 1967, she has worked to improve running opportunities for women. [29]

In 2015, Switzer launched a global non-profit called 261 Fearless with an ambassador program, club training system, and events. 261 Fearless uses running as a means to empower women to overcome life obstacles and embrace healthy living. [30] [31]

For the 2017 Boston Marathon—her ninth time running the race, and the 50th anniversary of her first time—she was assigned bib number 261, the same number she had been assigned in 1967. She was placed in wave 1 and corral 1 and finished in 4:44:31. [32] She was leading a team of runners from 261 Fearless, and rather than being the only woman officially in the race like in 1967, she was joined by over 13,700 women—almost half of the total runners. [33] That same year, the Boston Athletic Association announced it would not assign bib number 261 to any future runners, as an honor for Switzer. [34]

Also in 2017, she ran the New York City Marathon for the first time since 1974; she finished in 4:48:21. [35]

In May 2018, Switzer was the commencement speaker at the 164th commencement of Syracuse University, [36] [37] and received an honorary doctorate of humane letters degree. [38]

Personal life

In 1968, Switzer married Tom Miller, the man who had put an end to Semple's attack in 1967. They divorced in 1973. Switzer married and divorced public relations executive Philip Schaub. [39] She married British-born runner and author Roger Robinson in 1987. [40] [41]

Switzer eventually made amends with Semple after he changed his mind with regard to women in sports. The two became close friends, and she last visited him shortly before Semple's death in 1988. [42]


Representing the Flag of the United States.svg  United States
1974 New York City Marathon New York, United States1st3:07:29 [22]
1975 Boston Marathon Boston, Massachusetts, United States2nd2:51:37 [24]

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