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Today marks the 50th anniversary since Kathrine Switzer, at the time a 20-year-old Syracuse University student, became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon—Roberta Bingay Gibb had unofficially completed the race one year prior.
In 1967, when the marathon was still run only by men, Switzer signed up by using her initials, K.V. Switzer. However, she made no attempt to hide her gender as she lined up with her counterparts, wearing her earrings and lipstick.
Her participation in the race was etched in history by a series of photographs depicting an angered official attacking her, shouting, “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!” as he attempted to rip her bib off. The man was pushed away by another runner and, despite fear and embarrassment, Switzer went on to finish the race.
Today, Switzer, now 70, ran the Boston Marathon again, something she hasn’t done since 1976. Her groundbreaking act and bib number, 261, have become a source of empowerment for women and women athletes around the world. After today, nobody will ever wear bib 261 in the race again. The number is being retired in Switzer’s honor.
Switzer has stated that it was not her intention to break stereotypes by entering the marathon in 1967, but she certainly did. No official rule book restricted women from the Boston Marathon, but it was widely believed they lacked the physical ability to complete it.
In a time when women athletes weren’t seen as equals, Switzer showed the world that women are equal; she exposed the persistent sexism in sports and changed the culture of athletics forever. Through her nonprofit foundation, 261 Fearless, Switzer continues to use running to empower women around the world.