Monday, April 17, 2017

Thank you, Kathrine Switzer

Pink Slip generally celebrates Patriots’ Day with a paean to our quirky little holiday. Last year’s post was no exception.

I really love this holiday, and this year the forecast is for beautiful weather. And, once again, I have tickets to see the Red Sox play. The Marathon runs nearby, so when we spill out of Fenway, we’ll spill into the less-competitive runners. Post-game, I may go to a post-Marathon party at Kennedy Brothers PT, when we’ll fete the runners who ran on behalf of KBPT’s charity, Christmas in the City. All in all, it promises to be an excellent day. But, other than this one paragraph, this year’s post isn’t a tribute to Patriots’ Day. It’s a tribute to Kathrine Switzer.

I don’t recall reading the news about Kathrine’s attempt to be the first woman to officially run Boston. That was in 1967, and I was spending the week in NYC with my friend Kathy – the week I fell head-over-heels in love with MarathonManhattan. So I missed the news about Kathrine – who used her initials K.V. to register – getting chased by race official Jock Semple. There’s Jock in hot pursuit, trying to pull the numbered bib off of Kathrine’s sweatshirt – and screaming at her to “get the hell out of my race.” Not to be outdone, Will Cloney, who was the head of the Boston Athletic Association (which runs the Marathon), was quoted as saying, “If that girl were my daughter, I would spank her.”

The nerve of a “girl” – Kathrine was a twenty-year old Syracuse student at the time – trying to run the boys-only Marathon.

Admittedly, fifty years is a long time. But for those of us who were there and then, it’s just yesterday.

And that was a yesterday when there were far fewer athletic opportunities for women. My high school (all girls) had one sport: basketball, which was played old-style: half-court, with two stationary forwards, two stationary guards, and two rovers. I didn’t play on the inter-scholastic team, but I did play intramural. Again, basketball was the only sport for intramural. The uniforms (which were our gym uniforms) ooked like waitress dresses. Each class had different colored waitress gym uniform. My class was Dawn Yellow. The “real” team’s uniforms were similar, but I don’t think they had starched white collars, which our gym unis did.

Phys ed, by the way, was mostly about doing wand drill and playing Squirrel in a Cage, supervised by the ancient Miss Foley. We didn’t shower after gym, because no one worked up a sweat.

These days, my high school is something of an athletic powerhouse, and has teams for cross country, field hockey, soccer, swimming & diving, alpine ski, basketball, winter track, golf, lacrosse, softball, spring track, and tennis.

What a difference fifty years make.

And that difference was made in no small part due to women like Kathrine Switzer.

This year, the Boston Athletic Association is retiring the number – 261 – that she wore way back in 1967. The BAA doesn’t retire numbers lightly. The only other retired number is 61, in honor of the 61 races run by Johnny Kelley. (When I first came to Boston – fall of 1967 – I went quite often to watch the finish of the Marathon. It wasn’t a big deal back in those days. You could walk about to the finish line at the last moment, and you stayed until Johnny Kelley had crossed the finish line. Johnny Kelley would have been sixty the first time I saw him race in 1968.)

By the way, at age 70, Kathrine will be running Boston again to commemorate her 50th marathon-i-versary. She’ll be in good company. Last year, out of the more than 30,000 numbered racers, 46% were women.

Although I love sports, I’m no athlete. When I was younger, I skied a bit, played tennis a bit, but never seriously took up any sport. I suspect if I were in high school now, I would be doing something. My father was a superb, multi-sport athlete, and both of my brothers played sports. One of my brother was a chip off the old block, athletic-wise. It’s even irritating to play mini-golf with him, as he just has that natural athlete confidence and sense. I’m typically okay on the first nine, but then get in my head and blow up on the back nine. Nonetheless, I did stand a 50-50 chance of inheriting the athlete gene. So who knows?

Anyway, here’s a shout out to Kathrine Switzer, Marathon Woman, still running after all these years.

At 70, she won’t be finishing among the elite runners. Maybe when the game is over, I’ll see her legging it through Kenmore Square. Go, Kathrine.

A few years ago, I stopped Gloria Steinem on the street to thank her for all that she had done for the women of my era.

I’ve got another thanks in me.

Thank you, Kathrine Switzer.



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