Don't ever tell me I'm not "allowed" to do something. You can attempt to persuade me with logic. You can lobby me. You can even try to sweet-talk me. But forbid me from doing something? That's an invitation, as far as I'm concerned.
And that's what I'll be thinking about today, on April 16th, the 40th anniversary of women running in the Boston Marathon, when more than 27,000 runners from around the world will test their endurance, speed, and passion for their sport.
The race was first run in 1897, but for its first 75 years women were not "allowed" to run in it! Marathon officials of that era thought nothing of banning an entire gender from the event. It wasn't until 1972 that fairness prevailed.
It could make you angry all over again at the injustice of it all, if it wasn't for the stories -- great stories -- of how a handful of women managed to run the marathon anyway, even before the ban was lifted.
In 1966, Roberta Gibb was called the "bandit runner." She was the first woman to run the entire length of the Boston Marathon. But she didn't officially enter the race. She couldn't. She wasn't "allowed" -- and, therefore, had no numbered bib. So what she did was ingeniously mischievous. She hid in the bushes and jumped into the race late in order to get past the officials. She finished with an unofficial time of 3:21:40. My kinda gal.
Things picked up speed the next year, when Kathrine Switzer did Gibbs one better, in the process generating worldwide headlines for inciting what became known as "The Boston Incident." Switzer quietly registered under the name K. V. Switzer, and lined up with the boys at the starting line. And she did indeed run with them -- managing to remain undetected in the pack until halfway through the race, when officials suddenly became aware of her infiltration. The ensuing media storm, however, was less about Switzer's bold stunt than about the hapless desperation of official Jock Semple, who attempted to run Switzer down, rip off her numbers and forcibly remove her from the race.
Can you imagine the sight of that? Fortunately, Semple could not catch his prey, and Switzer tore through the finish line with a time of 4:20:00.
Ultimately, Gibbs and Switzer's back-to-back demonstrations of defiance convinced officials to lift their futile ban; and 1972, seven women entered the Boston Marathon for the first time. Nina Kuscsik became the first official women's champion with a finishing time of 3:10:26.
This triumph for women would have been spotless, were it not for a scandal that erupted at the 1980 Marathon, when a runner named Rosie Ruiz emerged from seemingly nowhere to win the women's race. Fact is, she had actually emerged from the bushes about a mile from the finish line, then stealthily blended into the crowd. When officials could not detect her in any of the early videotapes of the race, they realized they had been duped and Ruiz was deservedly disqualified. The true winner of the women's race that year was a Canadian named Jacqueline Gareau.
Since those early days, there have been many victories, many records broken and many dreams fulfilled. Kathrine Switzer went on to win the New York Marathon in 1974, and she dedicated her career to creating opportunities and equal status for women in sports around the world. A true role model.
And that's while I'll be watching this year's marathon, and scanning the crowd for that special determined face. Any one of those women runners could be our next leader of the pack. And how great that they don't have to hide in the bushes to do it.
Here's a look back at the history of women in the Boston Marathon. And good luck to the women of the 2012 race. On your mark, get set...
Roberta Gibb, known as "the bandit runner," was the first woman to run the full Boston Marathon in 1966. She hid in the bushes, waited for the runners to pass, and tried to blend in with everyone else. She finished at 3:21:40.
Kathrine Switzer incited what became known as "The Boston Incident" when she tried a different approach to running the Boston Marathon. In 1967, she officially entered the race as K. V. Switzer. Race officials didn't realize this until midway through the race. They tried, unsuccessfully, to run her down and take her bib. She finished the race with a time of 4:20:00.
Sara Mae Berman, mother of three, ran the Boston Marathon unofficially for three consecutive years in 1969, 1970 and 1971. Unlike Kathrine Switzer, she ran the race without incident.
In 1972, women were allowed to officially register to run the Boston Marathon. Nina Kuscsik was the first official female champion, beating the other seven women who started and finished the race. Her finishing time was 3:10:26.
Sharon Rahn became the first woman to win the women's wheelchair division of the Boston Marathon in 1977. She set the course record, finishing at 3:48:51.
Liane Winter of Germany, pictured right, set a world best record at the Boston Marathon on April 21, 1975 with a finishing time of 2:42:24. She was the first woman from outside the United States to win the Boston Marathon.
Miki Gorman is the only woman to win both the Boston and New York City marathons twice, and one of only two woman runners to win both marathons in the same year. In April 1974, she won the Boston Marathon in a course record of 2:47:11.
Olympic marathon winner Joan Benoit entered the 1979 Boston Marathon as a relative unknown. She ran the race wearing a Boston Red Sox cap and won, with a record-setting finishing time of 2:35. She won again in 1983 with a time of 2:22:43, two minutes less than the world's best marathon record.
Margaret Okayo of Kenya broke the course record for women in 2002, finishing with a time 2:20:43.
Catherine Ndereba of Kenya has won the Boston Marathon a record-setting four times - in 2000, 2001, 2004, and 2005.
Doris E. Shertz, 72-year-old mother of six and grandmother of 15, took first place in the 70 to 74 age group last year, beating out 7 other women in the category.
Kenyan long distance runner Caroline Cheptanui Kilel won last year's Boston Marathon, finishing two seconds ahead of the 2nd place winner.
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