Kathrine Switzer changed the world. It's that simple and complex at the same time. For those of you who don't know, Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to be a registered runner in the Boston Marathon (which happened in 1967). She sparked a movement and empowered women everywhere. She made a career out of running and inspiring others to reach their goals- all the goals that people routinely think are impossible.
I am very thankful to call Kathrine a great friend and I sat down with her to discuss her life, her books and how she continues to inspire others. Enjoy the read.
Brandon Steiner: Being the first woman to be a registered runner in the Boston Marathon made world headlines. What motivated you to do it?
Kathrine Switzer: Originally, it was not to make a political statement. I was fascinated by my ability to run long distances and my coach didn't believe any woman could do it, so he promised me if I could do it in practice, he'd take me to Boston. It was like a gift from him. It became a political act after the official attacked me.
BS: Reflecting on all that you’ve accomplished, how do you assess the impact you’ve made on inclusion and equality in sports?
KS: I would say it is very significant. When I first ran, there was hardly a woman in the world who ran; now in North America there are more women runners than men. I created a series of 400 events in 27 countries that changed attitudes about women running and also was instrumental in getting the women's marathon into the Olympic Games, this changed world attitudes. This is beyond running; it is a social revolution as these women are running not to be athletes but because running empowers them.
BS: How do you create success in a difficult environment?
KS: You work hard! But you also look at what the problems are and regard them as opportunities becasue if a problem exists, solving it can even be a business- or world-changer. Sometimes the worst things in your life can become the best things.
BS: You empowered women in 1967. Where is gender equality still lacking in 2015?
KS: I only started to empower women in 1967. It took a long time at first, as women were afraid of sports. Now women's running, women's sports, is commonplace and accepted in all industrialized nations. Where gender equality is lacking now are in traditional households and socially repressive places--the middle east, north Africa and parts of South America. And we have yet to popularize sports for women to the same extent as men, but eventually that will change, too.
BS: What do you say to someone, man or woman, who does not know how to combat an adverse situation?
KS: Create opportunities for them to prove the adverse situation is wrong. Be positive and take the high road in the face of negativity. And be patient in creating these opportunities. Sometimes it takes years, but in the full scope of time, social change can happen quickly.
BS: What is the number one thing someone should take away from reading your book "Marathon Woman?"
KS: That it's not about running but about overcoming the impossible.
BS: How did our alma mater, Syracuse, play a role in your life’s path?
KS: Huge. They were positive to me when I ran Boston, when a lot of media and public were not. And my education was fabulous--when I left SU's Newhouse School with both a BA and MA in communications in my back pocket, I knew I had a leg up on almost all the competition out there. And let's not forget Syracuse snow! …When you run in conditions like those in Syracuse, you get very, very tough. Nobody from California was ever going to beat ME!!
BS: I’m big on nutrition and staying fit. How do you prepare for a marathon? How have you stayed in shape over the years?
KS: Marathon preparation takes a long time. You have to love the process, you have to love running for hours. Anybody can run 20 miles, but to run 26 requires a lot of training as the body has to learn over time how to gain energy from stored fat sources when all the usable sugar stores are used up. It's a different process from almost any other event. Mentally, you have to be a long-term gratifier. And in the end, you have to be able to go to the start line and be ready to suffer. At some point, it will hurt. But the discovery is overwhelming and enlightening. I've stayed in shape over the years by just going out and running every day, or a few times a week. For 30-60 minutes a day investment, it has given me a return that is priceless.
BS: Thank you, Kathrine.
Learn more about Kathrine Switzer's incredible life journey here.