For the Love of Running
by Lizzie Wann
It was not so long ago that the marathon was off-limits to women. From the Olympics (which didn't allow a women's marathon until 1984) to the most celebrated marathons in the world, the struggle for women to compete at that distance was a marathon in itself. And without a pioneer like Roberta (Bobbi) Gibb, the struggle may not have had the same outcome.
Gibb is a woman who simply loves to run. She feels it connects her to nature and to other humans. As a young woman, she ran across the country, along roads and trails, in cities and in rural towns and didn't even know what a marathon was before 1964. A spectator of the Boston Marathon that year and with ankle injuries on the sidelines again the following year, it wasn't until 1966 that Gibb officially applied to run in the Boston Marathon.
Unfortunately, current rules and science at that time didn't allow women to compete in distances longer than two miles because it was reported they were not physiologically able, so Gibb was denied entry to the race. Undeterred, Gibb donned men's shoes and a big sweatshirt and while the men toed the starting line, Gibb crouched in the bushes. When the gun went off, she joined the race.
As the marathon went on and fellow runners and spectators realized that Gibb was a woman, support and encouragement rallied her on to a finish of 3:21:40. Although the Boston Athletic Association did not allow her to participate in any post-race activities, it is well-known and recognized that Roberta Gibb was, in fact, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. Says Gibb, "I hadn't intended to make a feminist statement. I was running against the distance [not the men] and I was measuring myself with my own potential."
She continued to race against the distance, albeit 'unofficially,' the next two years and provided a stepping stone for women to use after her, great runners such as Kathrine Switzer, Adrienne Beames, Grete Waitz, Joan Benoit and many others.
Gibb continues to run and devotes a lot of time to help raise funds and awareness for the Angel Fund that supports research for ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). She is also a lawyer, sculptor and author.
Bobbi Gibb was inducted into the Road Runner Sports Run of Fame on January 18, 2002.