Marathon pioneer Kathrine Switzer: How I celebrate International Women’s Day

Credit: marathonfoto.com
Credit: marathonfoto.com

Kathrine Switzer broke the gender barrier at the previous all-male Boston Marathon, won the New York City Marathon, and created women’s running events in 27 countries that spearheaded the women’s marathon into the Olympic Games. She is an Emmy Award-winning sports commentator, the author of three books, and is currently leading ‘261 Fearless’, a women’s empowerment movement through running.

March 8 is International Women’s Day. This day we celebrate the achievements of women with a day of action: more than talk, we will DO.

For me, it’s also a day I happily reflect on my mantra:

Be Fearless, Be Free, Be Grateful.

Our mantras are a reflection of own lives, and sure, mine includes the hard work, risks and the awakenings of many years. But this mantra also evolved from the contributions and collective spirit of many women’s lives, both past and future, and in the spirit of celebration, I’d like to share its evolution with you.

When I first ran the 26.2 mile/42.2 km Boston Marathon wearing bib number 261, I broke a huge barrier of women’s so-called limitation. Barriers are broken when myths are finally shattered, and that comes when women are given an opportunity to prove themselves. Talent and capability exist in all of us; we only need the opportunity to try. Social change and advancement, fearlessness and vision come by adding facts and inspiration, but the opportunity is paramount.

As I write this, I’m on a plane to the 261 Women’s Marathon in Mallorca, and it is most fitting that this event is being held on International Women’s Day, because the event was created as an opportunity for women to experience breaking the myth of their own limitation. Women need to prove to themselves they can take on a challenge and succeed; they need to DO it to understand. The spirit at this particular run is electric and life-changing, because when women run a marathon, they know they can do anything.

Little is more dramatic in the progress of women’s empowerment globally than the explosion of women’s running. Millions of girls and women are now embracing this cheap, easy and accessible activity that gives them self-esteem and the clarity to determine their own lives.

It’s exciting to see this philosophy embraced also by the Girls On The Run organization, which empowers girls at an early age, creating a strong base for their future. There are now more women runners in the United States than men. For these women it’s not just about running, it’s about changing their lives: they are becoming fearless, and they are leading a global social revolution.

It is true that freedom comes from fearlessness, but most women are afraid to take action because they’re held back by ignorance; fearlessness cannot come until they receive and believe in facts. That is why today we also celebrate women who are leading what I call “The Fact Revolution.”

  • Women like Kathryn Ackerman, MD, MPH, and her team at  Boston Children’s Hospital who are organizing the Female Athlete Conference on June 19 & 20, which features expert presentations of the latest scientific research to keep female athletes healthy and performing at the top of their game, and fueling women to break down barriers.
  • Women like Sarah and Kathi at the Illinois Heart and Lung Foundation who are determined to give women the tools to take charge of their own health, and to stop being victims and martyrs. They have created the annual Women’s Health Night in Normal, Ill. on April 15.

These events encourage public attendance and participation; the more we participate and learn, the more free we become.

Gratitude gives us wisdom and perspective, and today especially we are grateful for: The women—most of them unknown—who came before us and helped us be where we are. For the women of the present who are working diligently to make positive change, and those—like Betsy and Dyllan McGee on the MAKERS project, who are preserving and broadcasting these women’s astonishing histories so they will never be unknown again.

And most excitingly, we are grateful for the women of the future: You. Our job is to give you every opportunity to be educated, inspired, empowered and fearless. We have faith in you to set your sisters free to a grateful world.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Love, Kathrine

Kathrine is the keynote speaker at Boston Children’s Female Athlete Conference and will speak about running as a vehicle for social change.

Learn more about the Boston Children’s Female Athlete Conference.