Kathrine Switzer knows the exact moment that changed her life: when she was attacked on the Boston Marathon course by a race official who tried to rip her number off her shirt.
She had been the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon, and since then, Switzer has helped other women change their lives through her nonprofit 261 Fearless.
Now, on March 8, she’ll speak with four other “game-changing” women about the moments that kickstarted their own iconic trajectories as part of a panel to celebrate International Women’s Day.
“It’s such a big year for women, and we’re going forward on March 8 with something so positive, so forward-looking,” she said. “We wanted to do something with powerful women doing great things.”
Switzer will be joined by Ayanna Pressley, the first women of color elected to the Boston City Council now running for Congress; Joann Flaminio, the first female president of the Boston Athletic Association; Elizabeth Perry Tirrell, the first vice president of athletics at the American Heart Association; and Zahra Arabzada, an Afghan student behind “The Hijabi Runner” blog. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey will speak at the beginning of the event.
Through this panel, these women will share their success stories and advice for other women.
“One of the things I aim to ask them is to name the one key thing that you did that kind of gave you your fearlessness, that big moment,” she said. “We must ask them this because 261 Fearless is about empowering women.”
For Switzer, there’s no hesitation on her moment.
“It wasn’t running the Boston Marathon, it wasn’t signing up — it was the moment the official attacked me,” Switzer said. “I knew then that no matter what I had to finish the race. If I didn’t, no one would believe women. They would think I was there as a joke, a clown.”
Switzer was 20 then, and she said finishing the race gave her “a vision for change.” Her nonprofit has helped women around the world start their own running clubs, something she says has a ripple effect in their lives.
“We’re not about running fast, we’re not about being competitive — we’re about fearless women helping fearful women take the first step and change their lives,” she said.
Switzer has surely been a role model to many, and she said she looks up to all the other women on the panel, as well.
“The woman from Afghanistan, oh my god, to be able to get out of her country and run and have that sense of empowerment,” she said. “Maura Healey, Ayanna Pressley, women who put it out there, walking into the political arena where women need to walk and it’s so sticky and murky and rough… that’s not easy, and these women are leading the way.”
Switzer considers Boston the “birthplace” of 261 Fearless, so it was natural to hold the International Women’s Day panel there. Still, she wants the event to reach women all over the world.
“These women represent a broad spectrum of opportunity, inspiration… across racial, religious and age barriers,” she said. “There should be a piece of information there to inspire [any woman] to go forward no matter what.”