When a young Kathrine Switzer told her parents she wanted to be a cheerleader when she went to high school, her father told her that "life is to participate, not to spectate."
Those words stayed with Switzer and were just the beginning of her journey as a runner. A new documentary by ESPN, titled The Legacy of 261, takes a look back at how Switzer became the first female runner to compete in the Boston Marathon and helped advocate women's participation in marathon running.
April marks the 50th anniversary of Switzer's first marathon run when she was only a 20-year-old student at Syracuse University. Though there was no gender rule in the Boston Marathon's rulebook, Switzer signed up under the alias K.V. Switzer and was accepted into the race without hesitation.
But when Jock Semple, the race's director, caught wind of her participation, he immediately ran off a press bus, tried to snatch her bib number –– a unique number runners are given in order to be identified by race directors –– and told her to leave.
Looking back on that brief moment, Switzer is grateful she didn't give up competing in the race. She went on to use her newfound fame to push for women to be allowed to compete in marathons, which eventually led to the first inclusion of a women's marathon competition at the 1984 Olympics.
Today, Switzer continues to empower female runners with her nonprofit, 261 Fearless, which is a network women can use to create their own in-person and virtual running communities.
"If I quit that race, nobody would've believed women deserved to be there or that they could do the distance," she said in the documentary.
Watch Switzer's story below:
Cover image via ESPN