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Iconic Marathoner Katherine Switzer Inspires Women to Hit the Ground Running

Photos: Courtesy of Katherine Switzer

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became an unwitting icon of the women’s rights movement thanks to one unforgettable moment. As she was running in the Boston Marathon as an official participant, race co-director Jock Semple tried to tear off her number, furious that a woman had entered the race. Photographs of Switzer persevering despite Semple’s efforts inspired other women around the world to run — and changed the course of Switzer’s life. “I was instantly radicalized,” she says. “It was one of the most defining moments of my life. It opened my eyes to the fact that talent and capability is everywhere. It only needs an opportunity.”

Don’t make excuses

Switzer, who has run 39 marathons since, helped make women’s marathon an Olympic event and, this year, ran the Boston Marathon again at age 70. She has also written three books and created the non-profit organization 261 Fearless, Inc. to empower women through running.

“I meet people who say ‘I can’t’ and ‘I’m afraid,’ but you’re never too old or too fat or too slow to become an athlete,” she says. “Allow yourself the privilege to do it. Women say, ‘Oh, I have to take care of the kids or the dishes,’ but you deserve ten minutes, 20 minutes to move.”

Level the playing field

Switzer also believes that, though most men’s sports still receive more attention and funding, gender equality is a viable and important goal. Though men have physical strength most women can’t match, “women are capable in endurance, stamina, flexibility and balance,” she says. “If we showcase those qualities and reward them, we will see sports emerge where women are at the top of the game.”

Build a strong foundation

She also has advice for parents who might want their little girls — or boys — to get involved with sports. “Give a child variety. Give them fun and not necessarily competition, as well as a welcoming and inviting environment,” she says. “They need to believe in themselves, and little girls, especially between the ages of nine and 13, lose their natural sense of self-esteem. Always give positive reinforcement to them.”

For women who hope to be in the same shape as Switzer at 70, she has some simple advice. “Exercise is the key thing. I could go on about diet and equipment, but the most important thing is to move.”

Liane Bonin Starr, [email protected]

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