For some of us, getting up to walk 26 steps to the fridge feels like a challenge, so it’s easy to assume that 26 miles would be a bit of a stretch for most, but not Bobbi Gibb.
Hardly anyone ran at the time and the few that did were normally not women, but this didn’t stop Gibb. Running wasn’t about making a statement, but simply a way for her to find her back to nature and to feel connected.
Gibb would have her boyfriend drive her on his motorcycle out and drop her off and then she would run home. Her 1 mile run soon turned into 2, then 3, and before she knew it that motorcycle was putting 10-15 miles on it’s tires.
In 1965, Gibb took her training a step further and took a trip in her VW bus alone with her malamute puppy, Moot. Gibb and Moot went from Massachusetts across the entire continent to California.
Gibb ran the hills of Massachusetts to the Rocky Mountains and with each step, she grew stronger. She was able to run 40 miles at a time and it was this confidence and trust she had in herself and her body that pushed her to write her application for the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) in February of 1966. Will Cloney, the race director wrote back saying that women were not psychologically capable of running 26 miles, under the rules that governed international sports, women were not allowed to run.
Gibb’s was stunned, but she has said in past interviews that it gave her all the more reason to run.
The moment Gibb decided she would race despite Will Cloney’s letter, she knew she was running for more then herself. This was to share the peace she found while running, with the women who were falsely told they were not capable of doing so. This run would be to prove to everyone that women were strong and just as capable as men and most importantly, Gibb wanted everyone, women and man, to find the wholeness she had found in running. She believed this would lead to a better, happier, healthier place.
Gibb took her hopes for the race on the 3 night and four day bus ride from San Diego to her home in Winchester where, upon arrival, she loaded up on a huge roast beef dinner and finished it off with apple pie in anticipation of the race.
The day of the race, Gibb found herself hiding in the bushes near the start. When the gun went off, she jumped into the pack. The fear of getting arrested or people’s negative reactions pushed Gibb to wear a blue sweatshirt over her black tank swimsuit and her brother’s bermuda shorts in hopes of hiding her gender.
While a clever idea, it didn’t take the men around her long to figure out her gender by studying her anatomy. To Gibb’s great relief, the men were accepting. Their thinking was it was a free road and they even went as far as to say they wouldn’t let anyone throw her out. Gibb has pointed out in the past that it was not a man versus women confrontation. The men were glad that Gibb was running. This assurance allowed Gibb’s to take off her heavy sweatshirt and the spectators soon caught on that Gibb’s was in fact a women and she was received with cheers.
As Gibb’s advanced in the race, reporters spotted her and phoned ahead. The radio broadcasted Gibb’s progress towards the finish.
Gibb finished the race two-thirds ahead of the rest of the group, coming in at 3 hours and 21 minutes. As she finished, Gibb’s was encouraged by a throng of spectators cheering and applauding her. The press greeted her at the finish, along with the Governor of Massachusetts to shake her hand.
The next day, Gibb made front-page headlines. The story of a women finishing the Boston Marathon went around the world.
The next year, everyone was expecting Gibbs to run again. This time she was able to leave her disguise at home and start next to the men, still without a number though because there was still no official numbers for women.
Gibbs inspirational run the previous year inspired K. Switzer to follow in Gibb’s footsteps and compete in the 1967 Boston Marathon, finishing an hour behind Gibb’s.
As each year passed, more and more women joined the race. They still ran unofficially, without numbers or they registered as men. It wasn’t until 1972 when the race officially opened to women. Nina Kusick became the first official female winner of the Boston Marathon.
Bobbi Gibb’s bravery and love for running has inspired women across the globe, but the most beautiful part of it all is Gibb’s reason for starting and taking that first step: for the thrill of it. For the peace it brought her. For the passion that lingered behind each step. Her passion and inspiration paved the way for not only female runners, but women in general. She showed us that we can push our limits and people’s expectations and when we do, that we are capable of way more than we ever thought possible.