The first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a registered entrant wants other women to know that no matter how ordinary they think they are, they are capable of doing extraordinary things.
In 1967, five years before the Boston Marathon recognized women who participated, Kathrine Switzer ran as the first registered woman to do so, rocketing to the national stage after photos of a race official trying to pull her out of the race were published. Fifty-one years later, Switzer will share her story at a Trinity University panel about women’s empowerment. She said she’s excited to do so in a year where women have been making significant waves in social and political movements.
“Could we have a better year for women’s empowerment than this year? It’s going to be awesome,” she said. “Not only is it a needed panel, but everybody, regardless of your political inclination, has got be happy about [more than 100] women representatives in Congress.”
On Thursday, Switzer will sit down with panelists City Manager Sheryl Sculley, San Antonio Amputee Foundation founder Mona Patel, Tulane University Women’s Sports Medicine Program director Mary Mulcahey, and former CST Brands Chairman and CEO Kim Lubel.
Claudia Kemmerer, president of women’s running organization 261 Fearless’ Texas Hill Country chapter, said the women on the panel are all trailblazers in their own way.
“I’m not sure any of these women realized at the time they were paving the way,” Kemmerer said. “They were just doing what came naturally to them. They’re all, in their own right, very inspirational, motivational, and dedicated women who are setting an example for several generations of women.”
Switzer started 261 Fearless in 2015 as a way to empower women through running. The number in 261 Fearless, a global network of running clubs geared toward women, refers to her bib number in the 1967 Boston Marathon. Marathon officials retired bib No. 261 in 2017, when Switzer ran the race 50 years after her first time running it.
“Women who participate in running and sports have a sense of empowerment that they really want to pass on to their sisters,” she said. “I think we can say running got me through some tough times and gave me vision and steadfastness and persistence.”
Switzer will officially launch the San Antonio-area chapter of 261 Fearless at December’s Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon — a project that Sculley led the effort to bring to the city, said Minka Misangyi, the executive director of Girls on the Run Bexar County.
All the panelists run, Misangyi added. Sculley runs, Patel encourages other amputees through her foundation to run, Lubel started the Corner Store Country Run when she was still with CST Brands, and Mulcahey is an avid supporter of Girls on the Run.
Much of 261 Fearless is modeled after Girls on the Run, a national network that provides after-school programs to girls from third to eighth grade and uses running games to teach life lessons and help them make healthy choices in all aspects of their lives.
“It’s actually less about running than it is about life skills,” Misangyi said. “Girls have lessons each day – for example, how do you deal with anger, healthy ways to channel it. It helps them resolve conflict, and community building, and what they can do to make a positive change.”
Girls on the Run Bexar County served 750 girls in the 2017-2018 school year and expects to serve 900 girls in the current school year, Misangyi said. The organization started in 2010 with 36 girls, and now has programs in nine school districts in the San Antonio area.
Switzer isn’t done with competitive running yet. She’ll be racing in Humana’s Senior Games and is training for Chicago and Tokyo in the future – the last two of the “Big Six” marathons that she has to run.
Her perfect day for a marathon is a slightly overcast day, at 51 degrees, and a tailwind “if God is on your side.” She also said it’s important to arrive at the starting line feeling physically and psychologically well and ready to rock it.
“[Best case scenario,] you’re ready, you’re anxious to run, and if you have friends, that the support system is positive in your life,” she said. “And that you are in the frame of mind to not dread this, but know this could be the happiest day of your life – that you’re going to discover something about yourself that you could have never imagined.”
The panel takes place Thursday at Trinity University. Attendance is capped at 300, and tickets can be found here. VIP tickets include a private reception with the panelists, including Switzer, prior to the panel discussion, starting at 5:30 p.m. The panel starts at 6:45 p.m., with a general reception to follow. General admission tickets cost $75 and VIP tickets are $100, which includes food and drink. All profits are split between 261 Fearless Texas Hill Country and Girls on the Run Bexar County, to go toward scholarships for women and girls.