Iconic athlete, sports and social advocate, author, and Emmy award-winning television commentator, Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to officially register and run the Boston Marathon. She has been honoured widely for her achievements, including being inducted into the U.S.A National Women’s Hall of Fame for creating positive social change. The ramifications of her work are both joyful and profound, changing forever the face of sports, health, and opportunities for women around the world.
Kathrine Switzer is relentless in her efforts to empower millions of women beyond the finish line, now through her non-profit “261 Fearless, Inc.” and in her example: 50 years after she first challenged the previously ‘all-male’ rules of the Boston Marathon, she trained hard and ran the prestigious event again, and only 24 minutes slower than she did at age 20.
Sports history changed in 1967 when Kathrine officially registered and finished that famous race. She was not the first woman to run a marathon, but she was the first to register. It was still a men’s only event in those days and Kathrine’s entry created a worldwide uproar when the race director attacked her mid-stride and tried to tear off her bib numbers remove her from the event because she was a woman. The photo of this incident flashed around the globe and became one of Time-Life’s 100 Photos that Changed the World.
Radicalized by the incident, Kathrine campaigned for sports equality for women, and created opportunities for them. Official status came in the Boston Marathon in 1972; later that year she was one of the creators of the first-ever women’s road race and the women’s running boom was on. Kathrine went on to run 42 marathons, and won the New York City Marathon in 1974. (Which she also ran again in 2017, 43 years later). She ran her personal best in 1975, finishing second in Boston (2:51:37). She then put her substantial energies into creating the Avon International Running Circuit of women’s only races in 27 countries with over a million women participating from 1978 to the present time. It was this series of events, which showed global participation and performances that largely convinced the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to include a women’s marathon for the first time in the 1984 Olympic Games.
While Kathrine regards this accomplishment as a game-changer for women, she has yet larger ambitions of taking the transformational power of running to more women all over the world, especially those who don’t have easy access to opportunities. Through “261 Fearless”, her 501c3 foundation, she aims to empower women through a network of communication, clubs, training, events and merchandising. 261 was the bib number the angry official tried to tear off of her in the Boston Marathon in 1967; over the years, the number has come to mean ‘fearless in the face of adversity’ as women relate to its powerful story.
Kathrine is a personal example of fearlessness as well, having disproved years of myth and supposed female limitation. Now she takes on the challenge of ageing by celebrating her experiences in the Boston, New York City and London Marathons, all run in her 70s. She is now the first woman in history to have run a marathon 50 years after her first one. More significantly, she is joined by an enthusiastic team of women who run with her in celebratory fundraising efforts to globally support 261 Fearless.
Growing up in an era where sport was a man’s domain and also largely amateur, Kathrine parlayed her writing skills in her corporate careers and her running passion together into self-created careers in sports marketing with corporate sponsorship. Her corporate careers included jobs with Bristol-Myers (68-72), AMF incorporated (73-77; at the time the world’s largest sports equipment company), and Avon Products, Inc. (77-85 and again 97-05; at the time the world’s largest cosmetics company.) It was with Avon’s sizable public relations budget and global reach that Kathrine created the women’s running program in 27 countries; one of the company’s most dynamic PR programs.
Kathrine is an Emmy award-winning TV commentator and has covered the Olympic Games, World and National Championships as well as hundreds of other events including the New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and every televised edition of the Boston Marathon (41 consecutive years!). She is a journalist that has published hundreds of articles and is and author of three books, including her memoir, Marathon Woman. Other books include, 26.2 Marathon Stories, co-authored with her husband, Roger Robinson, and Running and Walking for Women Over 40.
She is also a lively, entertaining and highly significant interviewer and consequently enjoys extensive and continuous national and global publicity. This has included Oprah, Tonight, Today, Good Morning America, Nightline, and features on CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, MSNBC, ESPN, CBC, BBC, France3, France National, NHK Japan, ZDF Germany, TV Hamburg, etc., and all the major daily newspapers and magazines in the countries she visits. A media standout, however, was being the program-opening interview in “MAKERS: Women Who Make America”, the 3-hour PBS-AOL documentary on the women’s movement that first aired in 2012 and continues today as a precedent-setting global series.
Qualifications and accolades
Kathrine received both her B.A. (‘68) and M.A. (‘72) from the Syracuse University Newhouse School of Communications, and serves on the Board of Advisors at Syracuse University’s Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics. In 2006 Switzer was awarded the Arents Award, Syracuse University’s highest award given to honor an alum. In 2018, Switzer served as Syracuse University’s commencement speaker and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.
While all her awards and accolades are too lengthy to name, there is one particular highlight: In 2011 she was inducted into the U.S.A. National Women’s Hall of Fame; not just for breaking barriers, but also for creating positive global social change. Because of her, millions of women are now empowered by the simple act of running. Or as Kathrine says, “It’s not about running. It’s about changing people’s lives.”
Kathrine is a dynamic public speaker who inspires her audience because she is an authentic and accessible example herself. She is a visionary who has changed the world, continues to do so to this day and shows her audience how they, too, can make a positive and lasting impact on the world, or simply in their own lives.
Her world is global, and she speaks, commentates, endorses and runs from Athens to Argentina to Atlanta, from Boston to Beijing to Brussels. She lives in both the Hudson Valley of New York and in Wellington, New Zealand.
Kathrine Switzer | First Woman to Enter the Boston MarathonKathrine Switzer on the prejudices women athletes faced, her historic Boston Marathon run, and the doors it opened for other women athletes. Kathrine Switzer wasn't the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, but her presence as an official entrant made her a visible and potent threat to the sports world's status quo. The simple gesture exploded when an official attacked Switzer on the course. The incident was broadcasted worldwide and put a shocking face on the hostility to women's full participation in athletics. Her 38 subsequent marathons (she's still running them) include a win in New York in 1974. She led the successful drive to get the women's race into the Olympic Games, has won an Emmy for her TV commentary, and is the author of three books, including her memoir, Marathon Woman. Switzer's ongoing campaign to help women around the globe empower themselves through the simple act of running made her a 2011 Inductee into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
Kathrine presented exceptionally well. She was ideal to finish the conference with. The audience was enthralled and enjoyed it very much. Katherine was able to tie back her life experience a ... keep readingnd that of the public to the need for professionals and reminded the audience that that was them! TOWER Financial Advisory Services
Kathrine identified with our group. The audience reaction was very positive.
Kathrine spoke well and used humour to "warm" the audience.
Kathrine is a delight to work with. She took the time to listen to other speakers and then referenced them in her talk. This reflected well on Kathrine and also on the conference. We ask our delegates to rate speakers from 1 to 5 (5 being the highest) and Kathrine predominantly scored 5’s.