It has been fifty years since Bobbi Gibb became the first woman to race the Boston Marathon, unbeknownst to the race organizers who did not realize that a woman covertly made her way to the start. Soon discovered, she shed a heavy sweatshirt and openly finished the race – to the sound of cheers – in a remarkable 3 hours 21 minutes. As she tells her story, the next two years she ran again (sans bib). Sara Mae Berman picked up the baton and ran in 1969, 1970 and 1971 until the Boston Marathon officially opened its race to women in 1972. It also is notable that until 1972, the Amateur Athletic Union barred women from running more than 1.5 miles.
Today, men and women race 5ks to ultra marathons together without a second thought. On Monday, thousands of them will toe the line together at the start of the 2016 Boston Marathon.
I run races. I write a run blog. I am part of a vibrant community of athletes, and not once in my experience has it ever occurred to me that I should not be a runner because of my gender. In races, no one has ever denied me entry because of my sex.
Outside of the sport, education, hard work, and merit have combined to break down many barriers for women in this country. And because so much overt discrimination has dissipated over time, it can be easy to forget (or ignore) that it still exists. It is simply less complicated and more convenient to optimistically focus on doors that have opened instead of dwelling on doors that remain closed.
But this week was Equal Pay Day, and it is hard to look past the fact that women still earn 79% of what men earn, especially because it reminds me of a particularly painful chapter very early in my career when I learned that I was part of this statistic. (I chose to leave that employer for one that was more … equitable.) Whether I am comfortable acknowledging it or not, in factories and in boardrooms, in professional sports and on the silver screen, in politics and in society at large, there still is some trailblazing work that remains to be done when it comes to gender equality.
In the space of forty-four years, we have gone from prohibiting female runners from competing in distances longer than 1.5 miles to a time when women and men race long distance courses in almost equal numbers. I am grateful that Bobbi and her contemporaries did not take "no" for an answer and paved the way for the rest of us. But I am even more grateful that when I, as woman, approach a start line I do not think of it as being a unique privilege or in any way newsworthy. It is just … normal.
In the same way, I hope that in my lifetime, equality, mutual respect, and the absence of prejudice will be the new normal, and the only time that we actually are conscious of the fact that it has not always been that way is when we think to turn around and tip our hats in thanks to the women and men who blazed the original trail.