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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Katherine Switzer speaks on campus before Marathon

Switzer speaking in the Campus Center

In light of the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombings, the University of Massachusetts Boston created a week-long series of events in commemoration. This included an appearance by Katherine Switzer in an event called “The Boston Marathon: A History of Resilience.” Katherine Switzer is an iconic athlete and activist who forever changed the course of marathon history.

Switzer is a 39-time participant in the Boston Marathon. She is most well known for being the first woman to challenge the all-male tradition of the marathon when she enrolled in 1967 under the gender-neutral name “K.B. Switzer.” Since then, she has been an icon and beacon of hope in not only the athletic world, but in the feminist and activist worlds as well.

Switzer opened her speech with an anecdote of herself as a 12-year-old training for her school’s field hockey team by running in her hometown every day for an entire summer.  

“What the magic really was,” she remembered, “was the sense of empowerment running gave me, and what a way that was for a 12-year-old to grow up!” Running gave her the confidence and the courage to grow into the woman who was able to forever change the way the Boston Marathon was run.

Despite having all odds against her, and despite the fact she was not guaranteed a place in the marathon, she still spent a year training by running 30-mile sets in preparation for her 1967 debut.

“No matter what happened in Boston, I knew I could finish,” she explained.

And what did happen in Boston for her first race? It was discovered that the “K” in K.B. Switzer did, in fact, stand for “Katherine,” which led to a race official attempting to physically remove her from the race. That moment of attempted removal was captured by the New York Times in a now famous photograph, which gave Switzer, and her goal to grant women a place in the Boston Marathon, the worldwide attention it needed. Five years after her first entry in the race, women were finally granted entry into the marathon.

However, when prompted about whether or not she enrolled in the race in 1967 with the intention of becoming the face for female athletes everywhere fighting against discrimination, she stressed that her story is not necessarily one of men versus women; it is a story about overcoming challenges and having the self-assurance that enables the belief that you can do anything. “Talent is everywhere. It only needs an opportunity,” she reiterated.

Switzer’s story is also one of unyielding resilience, and in order to get her point across, Switzer abandoned the podium for the wireless microphone in order to appeal fervently and passionately to audience members. She said, “The secrets to success is that someone has to give you a challenge that you want to commit to, next you need a coach to guide you there, and if you’re lucky, you get a buddy to do it with you.”

Katherine Switzer does not embody the phrase “Boston Strong” — she is Boston Strong. Her story is one of unyielding persistence, empowerment, strength, and support, which she says is exactly what Boston showed after the Marathon attacks. She tied her speech together with the take-home message of inspiration, perseverance, and unity in the face of adversity. With the anniversary of the bombings, Switzer reminded the audience that “we are all at some point in our lives faced with some crisis — it is how you react with the decisions you make that make all the difference.”