It makes sense to honor my favorite women in running, because today is National Girls and Women in Sports Day.
February 2 is National Girls and Women in Sports Day. Today, we honor the accomplishments of females in sport, as well as to acknowledge the difficulties and inequality female athletes continue to face. Ronald Regan signed NGSWD into existence in 1987. The original purpose was to recognize the efforts of Olympic volleyball player Flo Hymen, who worked hard to bring equality to sports through Title IX initiatives. Today, I want to honor some of the amazing women who made groundbreaking strides in the sport of running.
First on my list is Kathrine Switzer. In 1967, 19 year old Switzer was the first woman to register for (and run) the Boston Marathon. Despite there being no rule about gender, women were considered too delicate to take on 26.2 miles. Switzer, bolstered by her training buddy, her boyfriend, and a friend, made the trip to Boston, ready to run. In the middle of the race, Switzer was physically assaulted by race official Jock Semple, who tried to remove her from the course. Defended by her small group, namely her footballer boyfriend, she escaped ejection. She faced a second challenge when that same boyfriend abandoned her on the course with some cruel and belittling words, but she managed to persevere and crossed the finish line Thanks to Switzer’s bravery, women today are a huge contributing part of the race and running community. (Read the story here)
The New York City 6
After Switzer, there were still some years before women running in marathons was “permitted.” After all, one’s uterus might fall out! However, in 1972, Lynn Blackstone, Jane Muhrcke, Liz Franceschini, Pat Barrett, Nina Kuscsik, and Cathy Miller appealed to the Amateur Athletic Union to register for and run the New York City Marathon. The AAU allowed it, with the caveat that the six women have a ten minute head start. The gun went off, and these six women sat down in protest. At the official start time, they hopped up and ran their races, along with 272 men.
Joan Benoit Samuelson
Joan Benoit Samuelson is a running icon, becoming the first woman to win the Olympic Games marathon in the 1984 Summer Olympics in LA. Since her Boston Marathon win in 1979, she has continued to dazzle and amaze, and most recently came in first in her age group in the 2019 Boston Marathon with a 3:04:00 finish! Amazing. I had the honor of running with Samuelson in advance of the 26.2 DONNA Marathon Weekend in 2014 – she graciously let us all keep up!
Kathrine Switzer may have been the first woman to run the Boston Mrarthon, but Violet Piercy was the first women to run a marathon recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federations in 1926. Way to go!
Allyson Felix, Kara Goucher, and Alysia Montaño
These three powerhouse runners made groundbreaking strides for women in running by challenging Nike’s lack of guaranteed salary for their pregnant athletes. In 2019, Nike finally responded and made concessions to their policies, offering protections in pregnancy. Montaño competed while very pregnant in 2014 and 2017 and proved her point that pregnancy does not mean running ability is compromised.
Mary Cain, Amy Yoder Begley and Kara Goucher (again)
While sponsored by Nike and The Oregon Project, these three brave athletes spoke against the now disgraced and banned coach, Alberto Salazar. Salazar engaged in doping, body-shaming, and was accused of sexual misconduct while coaching these and other athletes. Thanks to these women, others did not have to undergo the same unsafe treatment, making the running world just a little more protected.
Khatib is the first hijabi runner to appear on the cover of a fitness magazine. The October 2016 cover of Women’s Running featured the Michigan mom of three, who uses running to connect with herself and her faith. In the article, she said that she hoped to encourage more Muslim women to run and to prove running is a sport open to and inclusive of all.
Deegan is a local runner, who uses the sport to raise awareness and money for breast cancer. The 26.2 with DONNA is a huge race weekend, with a 5K, 15K relay, half marathon, marathon, and ultra. It brings runners from all over the world to compete in support of those with breast cancer. Deegan has survived breast cancer three times, and works hard to make the DONNA Foundation a light for fighters, survivors, and their families.
The DONNA Foundation, a private non-profit organization in Northeast Florida, provides financial assistance and support nationwide to those living with breast cancer and funds groundbreaking research to finish the disease once and for all.26.2 with DONNA Breast Cancer Marathon
There are so many incredible women in running, and it’s impossible to name them all. However, these are some of my favorites, who have pushed the boundaries to make running more accessible and equitable for girls and women everywhere.
Who would you consider an amazing woman in running? How are you going to celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day?
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