By Cindy Kuzma and Margaret Archibald
By now, runner, author, and activist Kathrine Switzer has logged countless miles. Most famously, she completed 26.2 as the first official female in the Boston Marathon, in 1967. The stunning photos of race director Jock Semple nearly pulling her off the course made history and cemented her life’s purpose of empowering women.
But like any others, her journey started with a single mile—one she’d run, on repeat, with hopes it would improve her performance on the field hockey team. Ultimately, it transformed her life.
“Every day I felt like I had a secret weapon, a magic that nobody could take away from me,” she said. “It was just amazing to have that under my belt… I felt like I could do anything.”
Switzer’s goal of sharing that power brought her to Chicago on March 2nd to speak at MEF’s 21st Annual MAC Luncheon, hosted by the women of the Metro Advancement Council. Over 295 MEF advocates and supporters gathered to raise over $101,000 in support of MEF’s student programming!
Kathrine started her day with a morning tour of Metro, where she felt an immediate connection to MEF and the mission. This was a message she’d echo at the luncheon later that day, especially after meeting the remarkable Metro alum speaker, Giovanna Medina, a freshman at Loyola University.
Just like Kathrine’s father and her school hockey team gave her the opportunity to navigate the challenges of teenage and young adult life with confidence, MEF’s mentoring programs support low-income students in Chicago in achieving their potential. “Nobody understands what they can do unless they have those opportunities,” Kathrine said.
Giovanna reiterated this very fact in her own remarks, “In short: without Metro, I wouldn’t be the outgoing, confident woman I am today. I learned about my worth, my value, and my dignity, and because of that, I know the potential I have to make the world a better place. Metro feels like a second home. And this home was able to open doors for me and my family that might not have happened otherwise.”
Switzer’s pioneering Boston run was only the first of many incredible goals. From there, she aimed both to improve her own running performance—she eventually ran a time of 2:51:37 and won the New York City Marathon in 1974—and also to help bring the women’s marathon to the Olympics. That, she did by partnering with corporations like Avon to start women’s marathons around the world, until the International Olympic Committee had no choice but to say yes, in 1984.
“I felt that if we could do that, we could level the playing field completely, and in many ways we did,” she said. But as long as injustice persisted, Switzer couldn’t sit out the next revolution. As she approached 70, she started receiving messages from women wearing her original Boston bib number, 261, saying it made them feel fearless. So, she and her colleagues launched a non-profit called 261 Fearless, which unites women around the world with the opportunities running brings. Each goal they achieve on the road or trail, each fellow athlete they meet, inspires confidence and a sense of accomplishment that carries over throughout their lives.
Giovanna likened that sense of confidence to the feeling of joy inspired in her by Metro that bubbled over into the rest of her life, “The feeling of belonging and comfort that greeted me at the doors each week was so penetrating that it followed me home after an evening spent at Metro. I would say it even followed me into the classroom and into my friendships. The staff, volunteers, and students are some of the kindest people you will ever meet and they leave a lasting impact on you that will make you want to come back.”
And Kathrine couldn’t help but agree, “It’s like the mentoring program here at MEF. I’m going to take you by the hand and we’re going to put one foot in front of the other, we’re going to walk, to run. We’re going to forget all the junk that went on during our day and our week and our lives just for an hour, and you’re going to find your fearless.”
As a young runner, Kathrine set out to prove that women could handle long distances. Now, she’s motivated more by a sense of responsibility to the next generation. She still runs at a high level—an endeavor that energizes rather than depletes her. Last year, she ran the Boston Marathon again, 50 years after her first time.
“When I crossed that finish line, what I felt like I had done is pass the torch to the next 50 years. It was a great feeling,” she said.
Like Kathrine inspiring the next wave of runners, Giovanna feels a calling to share her passion and learnings with the next generation of Metro students, “Being a part of something so positive and uniting is what makes me want to continue to be a part of Metro and what has made me apply to work at Metro this summer so hopefully, I get the job!!”
As Giovanna offered, “If you want to experience my second home, if you want to experience one of the best places in Chicago, I encourage you to go on a tour!” Please contact Margaret Archibald at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a visit and run away with that feeling warm feeling Giovanna guarantees is waiting there for you.
Want more of Kathrine's positive message of perseverance and fearlessness?
- Listen to the #WeGotGoals podcast (recorded at Metro!) to hear more about Kathrine’s future goals — which involve: more running, another book, her perspective on why running matters more than ever, and why she hopes people will support (or start) organizations like MEF in their communities.
- Watch Kathrine here to see a fun interview she did the morning of the Luncheon with our dear friends at tastytrade!