“I never think of myself as an icon. What is in other people’s minds is not in my mind. I just do my thing.” Audrey Hepburn.
I have said it so many times it would be impossible for me to count – “I am not your role model” or “I didn’t set out to be important in this [running] world. I have called what I do a series of selfish endeavours. And let’s be honest, running is a very selfish sport. We all strive (and stride) to beat our previous selves.
But, there is something special about running and the people who can do it faster than the majority of the population. There is something special about the people who are not the fastest, but find another way to leave their mark on the world – and no, I do not just mean the running world.
A few weeks ago I got to have my “fan girl” moment and meet Katherine Switzer at the Toronto Goodlife Marathon expo. Those who know me well know that I have not and do not have celebrity crushes, or idolize professional athletes. When asked who, dead or alive, I would like to sit across a table from my answer is Sir Thomas Moore. K. Switzer though… I mean frick… I don’t run Boston 2014 but for her. I don’t run the 2016 Olympic marathon but for her. I don’t… but for her.
I recently wrote a piece (to be published this summer) about the grittiest female sports performances and Katherine Switzer’s Boston run was the first performance that came to mind. Of course I knew the story, who doesn’t in our [running] world? But, when I went down my favourite rabbit hole of research I discovered so much more behind her ground breaking run. I discovered that she did not set out to be important, a role model, an icon… she did what she wanted to do and it was actually as simple as that.
“I made it clear that I was not trying to “prove” anything, except that I wanted to run, I’d trained seriously for the distance, and I was not going to drop out.”
“I do what I want.” Something I say in passing to people when I make up my mind to do something – some times small, inconsequential, things like have chocolate for breakfast… sometimes big things like run two events at the Olympics. “I’m a girl and I can do what I want.”
Running is selfish. Doing what I want and stubbornly declaring it so can also be called selfish, or I used to feel that way anyways. My guy friends say and do as they please and I question if they realize the selfish undertones of that narrow focus? To be clear here, I am not equating our selfish undertaking of goals and dreams to anything negative. I am however pointing out the beauty of broadening our perspectives—and how, if we are lucky, we become important outside of our own world.
I testified at the House of Commons this Fall about how my selfish endeavour to run two events at the Olympics took on a new meaning during the whole #doubledouble debacle. I realized that, much like the majority of my goals and then accomplishments in my short career, my desires had taken on a new purpose. “I was battling AC for the two spots I rightfully earned. But it wasn’t just my right I was fighting for. Canadians spoke up and voiced their desire to see me compete in both events. Not because I was a medal contender. Not because it would be nice of AC to let this little girl run. But because they wanted the women and girls in their lives to see a strong Canadian female competing for Canada. In my mind it was no longer about asking permission for myself. It was about demanding a right for all of us.”
Soaking up all I could about K.V and her Boston run I believe I now have my first “celebrity crush.” All she wanted to do was run the race she had properly registered for and put in the training. How selfish of her. During her run, after facing legitimate violence and being tempted to drop out, Kathy’s perspective switched and she realized she was actually running for more than herself. “I knew if I quit, nobody would ever believe that women had the capability to run 26 plus miles…If I quit, it would set women’s sports back, way back, instead of forward.”
I do not set out to run fast or make national teams to be important to you. I am still very selfish in that regard. Getting to call myself an Olympian makes me part of very exclusive club…but also an ever growing club. Every two years that club grows. After this weekend I am no longer the reigning Canadian 10km road race champion. Every year the club of national title holders grows. My records will eventually be earned by another runner. My importance in this running world is limited and I am okay with that.
I want to be selfish and see how fast I can actually run but I always want to remember that during those personal pursuits I am not limited by or to those selfish goals.
I can because she did. I do so that we all can.