It was 1967, and women were not allowed to officially run in the Boston Marathon. That didn’t stop Kathrine Virginia Switzer. While attending Syracuse University, she was granted permission to train with the men’s cross-country team. Her coach, Arnie Briggs, thought women were too fragile to run the distance required in a marathon. But he also felt that Kathrine was the woman who could make him a believer.

The problem was that Kathrine knew that she would be rejected if she registered under her name, so she used her initials K.V. and was assigned the number 261 for her racing bib.

On the day of the race, she was welcomed by other runners, but she needed to avoid the AAU officials who were in charge of the race. She wore a hooded sweatshirt to disguise her appearance. But it didn’t take long for her to lose the sweatshirt.

As a press truck passed by her, the race co-director, Jock Semple, became outraged by her deception. He jumped off the truck and tried to rip off her racing bib. When her racing coach, who was running the Marathon with her, tried to stop Semple, he was knocked down. But Kathrine’s boyfriend came to her rescue and pushed Semple to the ground. Kathrine finished the race. The incident drew a lot of publicity and embarrassed the AAU. The AAU responded by making the penalties for women running in a men’s race even harsher. It took years for the AAU to be more supportive of women marathon runners.

But for Jock Semple, the incident became a transcendent moment in his life. When the AAU finally changed its rules allowing women to compete, he became one of the most avid supporters of women who wanted to run in the marathon. Kathrine and Jock became best friends. When Jock was dying of liver and pancreatic cancer, Kathrine became a regular visitor.

At a time when our society is facing an epidemic of meanness, we need to look at Kathrine and Jock for guidance. We need to restore the values of purposeful living over those of narcissistic win-at-all-cost. We need to put aside grievances and use those as a catalyst for personal growth. We need to use our faith as a way to lift up the lives of others, rather than to instill fear in our differences. We need to value joy and hope over despair. We need to transcend our present state to reach a society where caring matters.

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“When I go to the Boston Marathon now, I have wet shoulders – women fall into my arms crying. They’re weeping for joy because running has changed their lives. They feel they can do anything.” – Kathrine Switzer

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