There are things that we take for granted that women of the past had to fight for. I have a full time job. I can vote. I can run for office. I can drive a car. And I can run. In the not so distant past, women who ran were frowned upon. Women who participated in any kind of sport were considered masculine. Femininity and strength were not synonymous. We’ve come a long way baby!
In the summer of 1984 I remember watching events of the Los Angeles Olympics. There were two athletes whose achievements inspired me. Mary Lou Retton, only one year older than me, won the gold medal for the women’s all-around in gymnastics. Her bubbly joy was a pleasure to watch. The second event that captured my heart was watching the finish of the women’s marathon, which was won by Joan Benoit Samuelson. I vividly remember watching Joan enter the stadium and cross the finish line earning her gold medal, and I was flabbergasted that she just kept running around the track draped in an American flag.
Fast forward to October 2012, and I was at the expo for the Mankato Marathon, and the keynote speaker just happened to be the legendary Joan Benoit Samuelson. Just before she spoke, they showed a video montage of her 1984 Olympic Marathon finish, then as she approached the podium, someone behind me whispered, “She’s really here?!” She really was. It was pretty cool to hear her tell her story and the encouragement she gave to all of us. One fact that she brought to light really surprised me though. Until that moment I did not realize that the women’s Olympic marathon event made its debut in 1984…the event I watched as a 14 year old all those years ago was the first time women competed in the marathon at the Olympic games, and the story of how the women’s marathon was finally added to the Olympics is epic. The person who was instrumental in making that happen was another legendary woman, Kathrine Switzer, who is credited as being the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1967. If you are interested in learning the full story, I highly recommend Kathrine Switzer’s book Marathon Woman.
Knowing this incredible history of women’s running is the reason I was excited to run the Unleash the SHE 10K this past weekend. This race is for women only, and there is a 5K and a 10K event open to 1,200 runners, which sold out this year. There is also a co-ed 5K walk that the men can participate in. Unleash the SHE raises funds for MOCA (Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance) in supporting women and their families who are battling this disease and advocating for research for early detection, and they have of the prettiest SWAG—a shirt that I actually wear and the most beautiful butterfly medal. I love the design of the wings as the soles of running shoes. Kudos to the clever designer!
It was rather chilly at the start line. We 10K runners lined up at 8:45 am, and the Moms on the Run group led all of us in a warm-up, then the gun went off at 9:00. The 5K started at 9:30. The course led out of RCTC onto Bear Creek trail and then there was a small loop around the river near the Mayo Civic Center and then back to RCTC for the finish. My running strategy was merely to enjoy the experience. I ran/walked the course and had a great time. I especially enjoyed the comradery of friends who were cheering each other on. There was an aid station at the 2 mile mark, which was also the 4 mile mark after the river loop, and then there was one more aid station just prior to the 5 mile mark, which was really for the 5K racers, so I skipped that one because at that point I was ready to be done and I headed onto the finish.
I did this race last year too, and my most vivid memory was the point when the 10K route joined with the 5K route, and there was one runner who was considerably overweight doing the 5K. She was giving it her all…shuffling a bit, then walking, then shuffling…continuous forward motion. It was wonderful to see her out there along with the rest of us women with different abilities and body shapes and with various reasons why we run.
I’m grateful that in this day and age we run because we can. Because of the courage of women like Joan Benoit Samuelson and Kathrine Switzer, we can! We can unleash our SHE, knowing that femininity is strong, and as women, our strength is our femininity.