Middle-aged race director Jock Semple attempts to body check 20-year-old Kathrine Switzer out of the Boston Marathon in 1967. KATHRINESWITZER.COM

BY PATRICK REID
Special to the Voice

The recent Boston Marathon, in which Pelham resident Carly Zanatta placed 55 out of 10,564 female runners, was the 50th anniversary race since women were officially entered and allowed to run in the Boston Marathon. Women had run marathons since 1896 (Stamatis Rovithi), but not officially until Brit Violet Percy did so in 1926. The women’s marathon event was not added to the Olympic Games until 1984.

In terms of the Boston Marathon specifically, for years women wanted to enter the event, but race director Jock Semple would not allow it. In 1967, 20-year-old Kathrine Switzer, from Syracuse University, sneaked into the start of the race wearing bib number 261. Semple tried to tackle Switzer and take her out of the race, but her Syracuse running partners knocked Semple out of the way allowing Switzer to complete the race “unofficially.” Today Switzer manages a not-for-profit organization called 261 Fearless, which works on projects that enable women to take personal responsibility for healthy and sustainable change within their lives.

It wasn’t until 1972 that women were allowed to compete officially in the Boston Marathon. Eight women entered in 1972. I remember this, as I too ran in the 1972 Boston Marathon while I was a student at the University of Waterloo. Thirty-three-year-old American Nina Kuscsik won this first women’s division of the Boston Marathon in a time of 3:10.26.

This year, along with Carly Zanatta and 10,564 other women competitors, there was a team of eight women participating in honor of the original eight finishers from 1972. Among these eight were: Valerie Rogosheske, who ran the race in 1972 and placed in the top ten of the Boston Marathon three times; Manuela Schär, one of the world’s best wheelchair racers; Sarah Fuller, the first woman to play in a Power 5 college football game; Kristine Lilly, a longtime U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team player; and Verna Volker, an activist who works to increase the visibility of Native American runners.

In the history of the Boston Marathon the only Canadian to win the women’s division is Jacqueline Gareau from Montreal, who did so in 1980. It was a bizarre situation, as an American runner, Rosie Ruiz, entered the race in the women’s division as well. After running a few kilometers, Ruiz left the racecourse, took the subway, and reappeared on the course finishing a few minutes ahead of Gareau. It was not discovered until two days later that Ruiz had cheated and was immediately disqualified. Gareau was awarded first place but missed the accolades that accompany winning the event on the day.

I enjoyed running that women’s inaugural Boston Marathon and ran it again the following year, but the lasting memory I have is that I could hardly walk for two days after completing each race. Clearly I was not as fit as Carly was this year.

Pat Reid is an assistant professor at Brock University in the Sport Management Department, and is a patient of Carly Zanatta and Dr. Peter C. Fritz, undergoing dental implants in Fonthill.