On April 19, 1967, Katherine Switzer rocked the marathon world by entering, starting and finishing the Boston Marathon. She was the first woman to do it.
Women were not allowed to even enter back then. After all they would get big legs, hairy chests, and their uterus could fall out. No, I am not kidding, people actually thought that. Early in the race
the media discovered there was a woman in the race. Word got back to the race director. There is a famous series of photographs when Jock Stempel, the race director, tried to rip Switzer’s number off while she was running. With more than 20 miles to go, Switzer was running with a group of 3 men. One of them, former All-America football player Tom Miller, blocked Stempel into the crowd. The group constantly feared that they would be arrested and thrown off the course. They weren’t, and they finished in 4 hours and 20 minutes.
If that was all Switzer did for women’s distance running she would be someone to admire. That was just the beginning. Switzer became determined to get the women’s marathon into the Olympics. At the time the longest women’s Olympic event was 800 meters, or about a half mile — far short of the 26.2-mile marathon distance. Truly she had a long way to go.
It is the struggle to get the women’s marathon into the Olympics that makes Switzer a role model. She learned how to make allies. She worked with people, even Jock Stempel, who became one of her biggest allies. In 1967 Stempel thought Switzer was using his race as a publicity stunt, but she won him over with her dedication to the sport.
From then on she did everything that she could to help get the women’s marathon in the Olympics. She organized races. She built herself into an elite runner. She created alliances. In 1981 the Olympic Committee approved the Olympic Women’s Marathon. In 1984, Maine’s Joan Benoit entered the Los Angeles Coliseum to the roar of 90,000 people, and millions of TV viewers listened to the TV announcer, Katherine Switzer, describe it.
Switzer has some advice for us truckers about exercise. She says that we have “very responsible and stressful jobs, and we can’t lose concentration for a moment”. She wonders how we aren’t brain dead at the end of the day. Still, she suggests that we start the day with exercise or, even better, incorporate a mid-day jog into our schedules, though the mid-day jog may not be possible due to the inflexibility of the 14-hour rule. She suggests that the end of the work day is also a great time to exercise. “It signals the end of the day and allows you to unwind without alcohol,” she says.
Switzer also reminds us that heart disease is still the biggest killer, more than all cancers, diabetes, and HIV combined. “The best way to fight heart disease is to exercise every day. We’re not talking about becoming a marathoner. Evidence shows that a brisk walk or jog of 30 minutes a day is all you need. So go for it, Truckers.”
Kathrine Switzer is a hero of mine. The way she fought for the women’s marathon provides inspiration as well as a blueprint for the fight for truckers’ health. You can find her story in her memoir, Marathon Woman. You will be inspired.