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Whittaker: Return To Boston

Thirty thousand men and women are in Hopkinton, Massachusetts to take part in the one hundred and twenty first running of the Boston Marathon. As the participants crowd together at the start, the energy will build until it’s released by the starting gun. And as the competitors surge forward, enthusiastic spectators will cheer them along for twenty six point two miles. For its first 70 years the Boston Marathon had not allowed women to run – and nineteen sixty seven was no different. All but two of the seven hundred runners in Hopkinton were men. A year earlier, Bobbi Gibb ran Boston as its first unregistered woman. Her two-year training regimen included participating in Woodstock Vermont’s Hundred Mile Equestrian Race as its first and ONLY runner. She ran with the horses for sixty-five miles over two days. But Boston’s race organizers still rejected her registration - telling her that women were not physiologically capable of running marathon distances. Gibb snuck in and ran anyway. She crossed the finish line in three hours, and twenty-one minutes, ahead of nearly two-thirds of the men.

When Gibb returned in sixty-seven, another lady was in the crowd. By using her initials on the race form, Katherine Switzer was assigned bib number two sixty one and became Boston’s first REGISTERED woman runner. With her bib numbers pinned to her sweatshirt, it didn’t take long for K. Switzer to attract the attention of the media and the race manager. Outraged that a woman had registered for his race, he chased Switzer down, yelled at her, and tried to rip her bib numbers off. Iconic photographs of the confrontation became front-page news around the world. But despite this aggressive attempt to force her to stop running, Switzer never lost her stride. Instead, the race manager was shoved to the curb by a fellow runner and Racer two sixty one kept on going.

With that encounter, Switzer’s race became bigger than her, and when she finished in four hours, twenty minutes, she proved that women deserve the right to enter marathons without fear of rejection or ejection. Today, Switzer returns to run Boston, and Gibb will be there, too, as a Grand Marshall. Thanks to these pioneers, Switzer will be joined by nearly fourteen thousand other women marathoners. And once again, at the age of 70, this fearless marathoner will be wearing bib number two sixty one.

Katherine Switzer will be making her fifth appearance at the Crowley Brothers Memorial 10K race in Rutland on June 11.

Bobbi Gibb is now working to create the first likeness of a woman runner to add to the existing statues along Boston's Marathon course. Learn more here.

Bob Whittaker is a collaborative leader committed to improving lives and communities by unleashing the collective talent that exists across organizations and sectors. He thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2000, is a doctoral candidate at Northeastern University, and lives in Kirby, VT, with his wife and two daughters.
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