When discussing the iconic story that inspired our drop TWO6ONE with our close friends and family, we received strong reactions specially as to the year this moment took place. 1967 is the year that paints the story of utopianism and The Summer of Love, but in reality, the people in charge held archaic values. Male centric sports institutions such as the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A) were no exception to the rule. The myth that women were “too fragile” to run the 26.2 mile course was practiced by voiding entries of women into the race. It wasn’t until a registration gone unnoticed took the B.A.A by the horns and marked what is a gender breaking moment in history. Kathrine Victoria Switzer, an athlete unofficially training with the men’s cross country team at Syracuse University was the woman that offended the institution for proving there is no such thing as fragile.
The image above shows the tragic moment when Switzer was being repeatedly pulled out of the Boston Marathon. The man trying to rip her bib, the race official J.S.一whose initial suffice because he is not the protagonist of this story一was blocked from taking Switzer down by her coach and boyfriend at the time. Switzer’s misconduct was the inspiration for our drop TWO6ONE. What more perfect way to inspire change than to confidently follow the path that you are destined to run. Rebellion that comes from passion, consistency, and hard work are some of the main motivators here at PRAISE. Let this drop be an homage to Kathrine Victoria Switzer and other heroes whose accomplishments have been pushed aside because of their “abnormal” identities.
Kathrine Switzer’s passion for running began early. According to an interview by Runners' World, Switzer began running at age 12 but it wasn’t until she turned 19 that her training extended further and further. The same way other institutions failed women at the time, Syracuse University hadn’t a single sports team that welcomed them. She unofficially trained with the men’s cross country team under coach Arnie Briggs, the single most important player in her unfolding story. Yes, it was the same coach who said the Boston Marathon was too tough for “a fragile woman” (King), but he also had the guts to admit that he was intrigued and supportive to be proven wrong by Switzer. In her memoir, Switzer retells the many stories that Briggs and her shared during long runs. They were all about the many men who had crossed the finish line each Patriot’s Day since the marathon’s debut in 1897. On a particular cold, snowy training, Switzer snapped. She had had enough of his stories and wanted action instead. Victim of the all too common sexist mindset of the time, Briggs claimed a woman had never run the marathon before but, it is that same questionable belief that led him to challenge Kathrine to train more than ever before. “If anyone can do it is you,” said Briggs, “but you’ll have to run the distance in practice for me to take you.” (Switzer)
After months of training, Arnie and Kathrine ran 26 miles together and at Arnie’s request, they added a 5 mile loop. The following day, Briggs visited Switzer and persuaded her to sign up for the Boston Marathon because “it would be wrong to run without registering”. Switzer and Briggs read the requirements to enter (no qualifying times existed at the time) and gender was nowhere to be found on this list. Switzer filled in her AAU number, paid the $3 sign up fee, and wrote the name she always signed, K.V Switzer. (Switzer) The way she wrote down her name awakens a flashback to when authors would use pen names to hide their identities from the audience to avoid clouding the reception of their work. Unlike pen names however, K.V. Switzer was not an attempt at hiding her identity. We can thank frequent misspelling of her name to the reason she thoughtlessly initialled her name. Their team grew when a fellow member of the Syracuse University cross country team, John Leonard, decided to run the Marathon with the duo. Switzer’s boyfriend at the time Tom Miller, a 235-pound football player joined them without training because in his perspective, “if a girl could run the marathon, then so could he”.
On Wednesday April 29 1967, Switzer would live a day that would bring her infinite clarity. K.V Switzer stood at the starting line alongside Briggs, Miller, and Leonard, wearing the 261 bib. Positive reviews from other runners in regards to her presence, made her feel naively welcomed to the scene. The Syracuse run crew begins its journey through the marathon in high spirits and the aim to find the right pace. At the fourth mile, race manager J.S. spotted the woman in question and aggressively tried to pull her out of the Boston Marathon. He screamed and reached for her, but Switzer instinctively ran away from his aggression. It’s easy to imagine how she must have felt when a loud, forceful “official” tried to go after her. A marathon celebrates hard work and conquering personal mountains, so how could her being there offend someone to the extent for physical force? J.S. kept on pulling until taking one Kathrine’s gloves. Moments after Tom, the football player, cleanly tackled J.S. to the ground. Switzer feared for her safety, and the consequence that might be brought against her and anyone on her team. Without pausing the run at all, her coach urged her to continue even after the commotion witnessed. Briggs knew he too had something to prove because Kathrine’s commitment went far beyond gender. Tom however, reacted differently to the test they had all been through. His reaction showed he was no better than any of them in fact. Tom Miller thought he would be apprehended for what he had done, likely leading him to suspension and affecting his athletic career. He discouraged Switzer by putting his future on her hands, regretting helping her, and abandoning the pack. Her coach insisted she pushes through this revealing moment.
All that could go wrong just kept on pilling on. Invasive reporters, stereotypical comments, and predictable questions kept being thrown at Kathrine Switzer. The same way training had taught her, outside forces had to be shut off to allow the mind to engage over the body. Switzer allowed herself to be lost in thought...and then it hit her:
“The reason there are no intercollegiate sports for women at big universities, no scholarships, prize money, or any races longer than 800 meters is because women don’t have the opportunities to prove they want those things. If they could just take part, they’d feel the power and accomplishment and the situation would change. After what happened today, I felt responsible to create those opportunities. I felt elated, like I’d made a great discovery. In fact, I had.” (Switzer)
With a frozen hand, blistered feet, and a let down from her partner, Switzer never stopped looking for the finish line. Regardless of the obstacles, she would make it to the end. From Commonwealth Avenue to Beacon Street, the trio looked forward to the finish line. “One more mile to go!” shouted a spectator to which Briggs said, “don’t listen to him, we have at least 3 miles to go”. Turn after turn, to “the front of the Prudential building, [finally] a line painted on the street [read] FINISH”.
It took the team 4 hours and 20 minutes to reach the end. It was freezing cold and they all celebrated with hugs and a sense of pride. Crossing that line made every doubt and every thought disappear. Kathrine had done it not because she trained, or because she had a family and a coach that supported her, but rather, the mission and the debt to all women in sports. Had she given up at any point would have been the perfect justification to allow the myths about women to continue to live on. Kathrine Switzer used that moment to claim back the space and the voice women had been robbed of for so long. Switzer has since dedicated her life to activism in sports. Her contributions have been so impactful that she continues to be an authority in her field.
This is one of the many stories that captivated us when conceptualizing this drop. This collection is dedicated to K.V.S and to other heroes who have been discriminated against when selecting who makes it into history books. The Age of Information aids the rediscovery of rebellious history that marked our present. Every item on drop TWO6ONE was named after figures that have been made invisible. We will be including a short biography on each of them as we present them to you. The accomplishments come from sports, politics, arts, etc. We hope to bring light to those who inspire PRAISE to never compromise and continue to create unapologetically. We hope you feel this way too when you wear our brand.
King, Jennifer. “Marathon runner Kathrine Switzer.” First women graduate from US Army Ranger School as gender barriers continue to fall, 22 August 2015, https://web.archive.org/web/20150822132200/http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-08-22/women-shine-as-gender-barriers-continue-to-fall-us-army-rangers/6716888. Accessed 29 September 2020.
Switzer, Kathrine V. “The Girl Who Started it All.” Marathon Woman, Carroll & Graf, 2007, p. 448. Web Archive, https://web.archive.org/web/20200420232514/https://kathrineswitzer.com/1967-boston-marathon-the-real-story/. Accessed 23 September 2020.