More than 30,000 runners registered to take part in today’s 121st Boston Marathon, and nearly 14,000 of them are women.
Among them is Kathrine Switzer, who 50 years ago became the first woman to register and officially cross the finish line of the Boston Marathon. She didn’t set out to shatter stereotypes or change the culture of sports forever -- but that’s exactly what she did.
“I didn’t plan to do anything but try to cover 26 miles, 385 yards,” Switzer said.
Nothing in the rule book prohibited women from running the Boston Marathon, but few believed they had physical stamina to do it, reports CBS News correspondent Don Dahler.
“People were very, very leery of any arduous activity for women because they thought it would make her turn into a man,” Switzer said.
Switzer registered using just her initials. She wore baggy clothes as protection from the snow. It wasn’t until the race began that officials noticed a woman running among the men.
“All of a sudden I heard a scraping sound … and I turned and I suddenly looked into the face of the angriest guy I had ever seen. This guy was out of control. He was snarling at me,” Switzer recalled.
That out-of-control guy was one of the race organizers, Jock Semple.
“And he grabbed me and he screamed, ‘Get the hell out of my race.’ I was just terrified,” Switzer said. “He said, ‘Give me those numbers, give me those numbers!’ He went after the one on my back and as he went for that, my burly boyfriend who was running alongside -- 235 pound, ex-All American football player -- took out the official just like that and sent him flying. And my coach said, ‘Run like hell.’”
The moment galvanized Switzer and set her on a new course as an advocate for women’s athletics.
“I was so terrified and embarrassed and humiliated, but then I said, ‘No, I’ve got to finish this race because if I don’t, nobody is going to believe women should be taken seriously,” she said.
Today at age 70, she’s running for her foundation, 261 Fearless. The organization, named after her now-famous bib number from the ‘67 marathon, aims to empower women through running.
“You see running as a metaphor for freedom of choice,” Dahler said.
“It’s a transformational experience and a way to take control of their own lives and their own destiny,” Switzer responded.
Switzer embraced her destiny for her 50th anniversary race and focused on starting healthy and finishing strong.
“But if I get near the finish line and I look over there and I see somebody who’s got gray hair and is maybe is in my age group, I’m just going to kick a little butt,” Switzer said, laughing.
She still has that fire.
“I tell you, you never lose that. You always want to be a little bit better,” Switzer said.
In fact, CBS News caught up with Switzer later in the day as she took part in the marathon.
“The higher reason now is not to prove that women can do it,” Switzer said. “The higher reason now is to show frankly that an older person can stay active and healthy. I want to celebrate in the best possible way and crossing that finish line is going to be a wonderful experience.”
Switzer and Semple, the race official who nearly tossed her off the course, have become close friends over the years. She told us he changed her life, gave her a career, focus, and health, and practically introduced her to her husband.
Another woman, Bobbi Gibb, finished ahead of Switzer in the 1967 marathon, but she was not officially registered for the race.