When a Woman Isn’t Allowed to Run the Race

My friend (and blog designer extraordinaire) Jason McCarty posted this picture on his Facebook page a few days ago, and something about it caught my attention. What’s up with the dude in the suit accosting that innocent woman trying to run a race? I had to read the caption.

It turns out Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston marathon in 1967. But it wasn’t until the race had already begun that race organizer Jock Semple realized a woman was running. (That’s him in the suit trying to rip her numbers off.) Reportedly, he chased her down, shouting:

“Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers.”

However, Switzer’s boyfriend and other male runners provided a protective shield during the entire marathon.

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photo by Shar Halvorsen of Simply S Photography

Things like this snag my attention now that I have two daughters. One of them is in her bunk reading. The other is trying to sneak toys in under her covers. But some day they will make the connection between who they are and what they want to do, and when that day comes I will do everything in my power to help them be whatever it is.

Race a car.

Be a mom.

Run a company.

Lead a church. (Ouch, a lot of you were with me until that last one, eh?)


* * * * *

I wonder if their race will be hindered by men trying to tear off their numbers in one form or another.

I hope my girls will have the perseverance to keep going.

And, should it prove necessary, I hope that other men and women will form a protective circle around my two little girls and help them run the race they set out to run.

* * * * *

There are some great discussions going on in the interwebs about this topic. For starters, check out Ed Cyzewski’s series, “Women in Ministry” or Pam Hogeweide’s book, Unladylike: Resisting the Injustice of Inequality in the Church.

Upcoming projects include Tamara Lunardo’s What a Woman is Worth and Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

17 Replies to “When a Woman Isn’t Allowed to Run the Race”

  1. Friends and I were just discussing the one important thing we learned from our parents and my sister said she remembers our dad saying we could be anything we wanted to be in life. I’m not a parent but I think that’s one of the most important lessons you can teach your kids – especially daughters. Good job!

  2. I remember hearing that story when I watched a documentary about marathoners. Absolutely blew my mind because, really? Women couldn’t even run with men???

    That said, because of so many advances that have been made in the area of women’s rights, it’s been easy for me to sit back and not continue to push. As I’ve been seeing serious push-back against rights already granted and battening down the hatches for rights not yet given, it’s made me much more aware of my small part in the continued pursuance of equality.

  3. Powerful story. I had never heard of this incident. The picture is very prominent and when you explained what was occurring it made it even more poignant.

    I want my daughter to be anything God wants her to do and be. I don’t want anything holding her back. I want to do whatever I can to be her biggest supporter and cheerleader. I want her to keep her faith and persevere despite the setbacks and struggles that will inevitably happen.

    Thanks for an inspiring post.

  4. Shawn, it’s like you’re just trying to push my buttons here. So, yeah. Women run. And we kick some bootay. Recently a woman runner ran a world record time, but race officials said that because she was running with a man, it was a coed race, she had an advantage. Therefore, no record for her. So here, we see women are now “allowed” to run, but dammit if they’re going to do it as well as men.

    Secondly, sometimes, it’s women who hold other women back, and that is quite sad.

    Third, your daughters are blessed by your fierce love.

    Finally, I promise to be a woman who comes along side, all of our daughters (and sons) to make a place where we are more than our parts. You go, Shawn.

  5. Thank you for this good word, Shawn. You’ve already positioned yourself in that protective circle and your girls will need it and appreciate it. I pray that by the time they are old enough to prayerfully consider the option of church-running, it will no longer be a contentious issue. But to be honest, I don’t have a whole lotta hope these days.

    1. With all due respect Katie, a place where you cannot be who you want to be doesn’t sound like a safe place to me. But I’m so glad you had the courage to leave, and I’m even more glad to have met you last week.

  6. Wow, I have never heard this story before. I have run a few triatholon’s before where there are too many people to start the race all together. So they start 4 different groups of Men heats two minutes apart followed by 4 different Women heats. Both times I was passed by a few women when I was on the run segment. I know some of these ladies were elite athletes but I think I learned that women can sometimes kick men’s butts (and also that I need to have a better training program).

  7. I really enjoyed reading this blog not only for the story, but for the statement that is being made. This in particular stood out to me:
    “Lead a church. (Ouch, a lot of you were with me until that last one, eh?)”
    I grew up in a church that literally split because of that statement. And from what I hear from my parents, that debate is back on the table and I wonder if it will lead to healing, or yet another split. It has a lot to do with why I no longer attend that church.
    I love these comments by Jen:
    “Secondly, sometimes, it’s women who hold other women back, and that is quite sad.
    Finally, I promise to be a woman who comes along side, all of our daughters (and sons) to make a place where we are more than our parts.” Especially that last one. I promise to be a woman who comes along side, all of our daughters (and sons) to make a place where we are more than our parts – because I, as a mentor to some, want to be that person in their lives. Making a way for them.
    Applause to you my friend.

  8. What a powerful image. It’s amazing just how far we’ve come in some things and how far we’ve haven’t in others. In college, I opened a world of trouble with the Campus Crusade group. Year after year I watched as my male friends took over the role of president, and so many deserving women were passed over just because the leadership group didn’t see it as “biblical.’ I have a big mouth, and it lost me a lot of friends in that group. But those years were scarring. And the whole thing made me feel like trash just because of my gender.

    I have a seven-year-old sister, and I’ll join you in that fight, Shawn. Thanks so much for this.

  9. gosh. This was powerful.

    The obvious hero in the lady runner. Gutsy.
    The unsung heroes are those awesome guys stepping in, who knew she should be allowed to run!

    Thanks for being one of those guys, Shawn.

  10. Love this story… including how Katherine scored a race number for the event. In some other marathons around that time, some women ran as ‘bandits’ … meaning they didn’t even try to register for the event because women weren’t allowed to, but they joined the runners after the start line and got off the course before the finish line, so they got to run a marathon, but they had to document to prove they did.
    Katherine wanted to be an official registered runner for the Boston Marathon, so she registered as K. Switzer and the race director naturally assumed it was a man registering (after all, women can’t run marathons) so she got a bib number.

    Yay Katherine!

    1. Just saw a typo … at the end of my first paragraph, instead of saying “but they had to document to prove they did.” It should say “but they had no document to prove they did.”

  11. Having a daughter (who just turned 13) has made me realize in how many areas I have let myself be held back. If she became a pastor, I would be so proud.

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