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50 years later: Philadelphia woman remembers making history at the Boston Marathon

PHILADELPHIA — Longtime runner Patricia Barrett loves spending time on Philadelphia’s Belmont Plateau, even if she doesn’t run on her favorite trail.

“It’s one of the best cross-country courses out there,” she said. “I love watching the distance runners here, it’s natural.”

Running came very naturally to Barrett as a girl.

“I just liked running around and doing things like the boys,” she said.

But the idea of ​​her racing didn’t come naturally to everyone.

“At that time, they thought it was a bit strange to run,” she said.

Running in particular was not considered natural for girls in school, as Barrett discovered when she sought to join the cross-country team. There was no girls’ team at her school: St. Rose Catholic School in central New Jersey.

“I actually raced with the men’s team,” she said, adding that the coaches and teachers at the school were very nice despite the lack of opportunities for female athletes at that time.

There was also a lack of opportunities for women in the Boston Marathon.

“The AAU wouldn’t allow it at first,” she said. “(They thought) it would hurt the women, hurt the reproductive organs.”

Barrett said a doctor at the time even claimed that a woman’s uterus would “fall off” if she ran long distances.

50 years later: Philadelphia woman remembers making history at the Boston Marathon

In 1972, when Barrett was 17, Title IX was just months away from being signed. The new law would require women and girls to have equal access and funding to opportunities such as sports.

As landmark legislation was about to be signed, Barrett just ran the race of his life.

“I didn’t expect to run the marathon that fast at that time,” she said.

To her surprise, this qualifies her for the Boston Marathon, which has just decided to allow women to run.

After being convinced by her coach, Barrett decided to give up her high school championship to make history. She and eight other women became the first to officially run the Boston Marathon.

“It was exciting but quite nerve-wracking because we all have this unspoken agreement that we all have to end this,” she said.

This year’s race on Monday will mark the 50th anniversary of official women’s participation in the Boston Marathon. However, unofficially, women have been running for longer.

“Roberta (‘Bobbi’) Gibb, she snuck in. She jumped out of the bushes in 1966,” Barrett said of the woman who tried to force her way into the race. This led to the now infamous photo of a male race organizer trying to forcefully remove her as she ran the race.

Women like Gibb, Barrett and others helped pave the way for people like Aimee Blanchette and Crystal Corley of the Wissahickon Wanderers trail running club. They now run alongside Barrett.

“I think we know now that it was a huge glass ceiling that she broke,” Corley said.

“And she’s so humble about it,” Blanchette said.

Fifty years after her historic run, Barret is doing more walking and stretching than running, but she’s still heading to Boston for this year’s marathon as five of the eight women will return to running to be honored.

“They gave us a place at the finish line. It’s really cool,” she said.

They are all celebrated for a victory that went way beyond the finish line.

“It’s good to see other generations have this opportunity and are taking advantage of it,” Barrett said.

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