Switzer had been hearing her college track coach saying repeatedly that running the marathon was the best day of his life, and she wanted to try it for herself. Knowing females were not allowed to enter (it was believed the long distance would “make a woman’s uterus fall out”!), she listed her name as “K. Switzer” on the entry form, and showed up on the day of the race with her coach and also her then-boyfriend Tom Miller (an ex-NFL football player, which matters to the story). Part-way through the marathon, a press truck began filming Switzer, drawing massive attention. Before Switzer knew it, one of the race directors, Jock Semple (great villain name), ran to her, and got all up in her grill (my words) screaming “Get the hell out of my race!” She kept running, and when the director went to grab her, presumably to drag her out of the race, her football-player boyfriend performed a cross-body block on Semple, sending him reeling to the curb so Switzer could finish.
It was at that point, Switzer said, that she realized she better finish that race, even if it meant passing the finish line on hands and knees; otherwise she’d be used as evidence that women could not handle the race even if one’s uterus stayed intact. Switzer crossed the finish line—on her feet—in four hours, 20 minutes. It was only after the race, when she saw pictures of herself on the front pages of newspapers, that she understood she had just changed women’s sports forever. Love it.
But when I woke up the morning after watching “Makers,” it was Switzer’s story that stayed with me. It’s because she hadn’t set out to prove a point that women could handle running a marathon; she was not trying to score one for feminism. She just wanted to run the race and, given her abilities and training, could not imagine why she shouldn’t be allowed to do it—so she did it.
Switzer’s story is a reminder to me that incredible achievements can happen when we follow our curiosity and desire without worrying too much about the hurdles. Maybe a little naiveté is even helpful. It is in hindsight that we talk about the boundary-breakers and revolutionaries, and history books make it seem these women (and men) were trying all along to leave a mark in the world. But how many feats and inventions started with the phrase, “I wonder what would happen if I…” When you think about it like this, really all of us have the possibility to make an enormous difference and change the world without setting out to do so.