Thursday, January 03, 2019

I Have to Finish! Her Fearless Run: Kathrine Switzer's Historic Boston Marathon by Kim Chafee

In 1959, it was strange to see a girl running.

Girls were too weak, too fragile for sports. That's what most people thought.

But not Kathrine.

Kathrine Switzer always loved to run. And when the running coach at her college noticed her running the track, he was interested. He asked her if she could run a mile.

"I can run three!" she said.

Her college didn't offer women's track, but they had no rules against women being on their running team, so Kathrine trained with the men, and while interviewing two male members of the team for the college newspaper, she learned that they had run the Boston Marathon--more than 26 miles in one day. Kathrine was intrigued. When she switched to Syracuse University, she convinced the manager, Arnie Briggs, to let her train with the men. Soon she was running ten and then twelve miles. And she had a plan!

Katharine studied the rulebook for the Boston Marathon. It said nothing about women. After all, women were not supposed to be able to run twenty-six miles without stopping.

April 29, 1967. The day of the Boston Marathon.

A record 741 runners registered, including one "K. V. Switzer."

The only other woman who had ever completed the Marathon, Bobbi Gibb, had run disguised as a man. But Kathrine, K.V. Switzer, Number 261, ran as herself. At first, among the crowd at the start line, she ran unnoticed. But then one spectator noticed her. He ran out into the street and tried to grab her, but Kathrine outran him, losing only a glove in the maneuver. But then she heard an angry voice.

"Give me those numbers!" a man shouted. He swiped at the front of her shirt.

Another runner knocked the man off the course and Kathrine just kept running. She still had her number, but she still had 20 more miles to go.

"No matter what, I have to finish this race," she told Coach Briggs, who was running with her.

"On my hands and knees, if I have to."

And Kathrine ran on, for herself, and for all the girls and women who were about to find out that, yes, women could run marathons, and more, in Kim Chafee's Her Fearless Run: Kathrine Switzer’s Historic Boston Marathon (Page Street Kids, 2019). Although she was noted on the front pages of newspapers and made the evening news, amazingly Kathrine was expelled from the Amateur Athletic Union for "running without a chaperone."

A lot has changed for women in sport since 1967, but led by the courage of Kathrine Switzer, women now run in all the major marathons around the world, and in other kinds of races, too. Author Kim Chafee's narrative builds suspense for young readers who may not know the story of this first woman marathoner, while Ellen Rooney's illustrations keep the story of Katharine's first fearless run moving artfully through the pages. Switzer ran many steps in that first marathon, but those historic first steps for women were soon followed by the feet of many more.

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