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One-in-a-Million: Kathrine Switzer

Posted Pamela Young on 2/16/2015 |

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This year, Girls on the Run will serve its one-millionth girl! We’re honoring this milestone by celebrating what makes each of us one in a million and by showcasing some one-in-a-million people who have made exceptional contributions to empowering girls and women—beginning with Kathrine Switzer, the iconic sports and social advocate whose participation as the first woman to officially enter and run the Boston Marathon made sports history in 1967.

During the marathon—which had always been a men’s-only event—the race director attacked Kathrine mid-stride and tried to physically remove her from the race. The photo of this incident created a world-wide uproar and became one of Time-Life’s “100 Photos that Changed the World.”

Radicalized by the incident, Switzer has spent her life campaigning for sports equality for women. In addition to running 39 marathons and winning the New York City Marathon in 1974, she created the Avon International Running Circuit of women’s-only races in 27 countries and played a role in convincing the IOC to include a women’s marathon in the Olympic Games. In 2011 she was inducted into the U.S.A. National Women’s Hall of Fame for breaking barriers and creating positive global social change. Because of her, millions of women are now empowered by the simple act of running.

Here’s what Kathrine has to share about being one in a million.

Q: Girls on the Run envisions a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams! How did you start to realize your own limitless potential and pursue the path to where you are today?

Kathrine: When I was 12 years old, I was very skinny and insecure, and already I was going to be in high school with older kids. My dad encouraged me to run a mile a day, saying I could make the girls’ field hockey team in our school if I ran every day. I never thought I could run a mile, much less make a team, but I worked at this mile very slowly and then did it every day. I made the field hockey team and had a huge sense of accomplishment—‘Wow, I DID it!’ I thought. I was truly amazed at my own ability, and it was so simple—just putting one foot in front of the other. But it was not easy; I needed to do it every day. What happened was that the more I ran, the better I felt about myself. I felt stronger, braver and like I could accomplish more. Each step led to the next step and my achievements grew.

Eventually I became a marathon runner (that’s 26 miles, 385 yards!), and with more work and self-belief, I eventually won the New York City Marathon. The same sense of strength later in life led me to believe I could try for good jobs, write books and publicly challenge many myths about women’s capabilities. I never could have imagined accomplishing these things when I was younger. Running made it happen for me and now, 50 years later, running STILL makes it happen for me! It’s almost magic. But it’s not. It’s YOU . . . you DOING it.

Q: Of the traits and achievements that help make you one in a million, what stands out most to you?

Kathrine: Determination. No matter how long it takes, no matter how much work it is, if something needs to be done or if it is truly worth doing, I will do it. I am really very willing to work for a long time to succeed. Three adjectives that would describe me best are determined, responsible and grateful.

Q: Girls on the Run believes that big things are possible when you keep moving forward. One of the ways our girls experience that is when they cross the finish line at the 5k that celebrates their completion of the program. Can you share an example from your own life?

Kathrine: Yes, crossing the finish line in that 5k is an analogy for the rest of your life. Everything is about taking the first step, going forward and then finishing . . . but then it goes on to the next and then the next challenge or project or obligation.

My example is writing my book! At first it is very hard to get the discipline of organizing your thoughts, focusing on what needs to be said, and then the really hard grind of writing. But to me, it was rarely a hard grind; it was more like going on a long run and getting lost in my thoughts! But still you have to do it. You don’t finish a 5k without covering the distance, and you don’t write a book without writing all the pages—lots of them! When you finish the book, like when you cross the finish line, you are so thrilled!  You’ve done it, you finished it, and you can look back and see what you have done.  Now you know you can do anything.

Q: Which one of the core values of Girls on the Run resonates most with you and why?

Kathrine: Girls on the Run’s core value “Recognize our power and responsibility to be intentional in our decision making,” resonates with me the most, as life everyday gives us small and huge decisions to make. People who cannot make those decisions allow others to control their lives. They are fearful. When you make a decision, you are taking the first step to becoming fearless . . . and also to being FREE. Some decisions are not easy, but if you have created a base of strength for yourself (say, from the power you feel from running), you can make these decisions more fearlessly and be confident that you are right; and if you are not right, you are strong enough to correct the error, learn from it and move on.

 - Kathrine Switzer in the 1967 Boston Marathon.

You can learn more about Kathrine Switzer and the work she's doing now at

Who do you think is One in a Million? Take the One in a Million Challenge today and help build a chain of affirmation! Post a photo of someone you think is One in a Million, make a donaton to Girls on the Run in their honor and ask them to accept the challenge to do the same.


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