Interview with Bobbi Gibb April 2011
Jan—Nice of you to be here with us today, Bobbi Gibb
Bobbi—My pleasure, Jan and Laurie
Laurie—You were the first woman to ever run the Boston Marathon. That is a tremendous achievement. How does it make you feel in retrospect, it being the forty-fifth anniversary of your first win in 1966.
Bobbi—It’s funny; it seems like hundreds of lifetimes ago and yet only yesterday.
Jan—You were a three-time winner, in 1966, 1967 and 1968! But the marathon didn’t have an official women’s division race until 1972. How did that work?
Bobbi—You have to remember that the world then was quite different than it is today. First of all there were no major city marathons except Boston. Hardly anyone ran, not even men. And for a grown woman to run in public was quite outside the social norm.
Laurie—In fact, it was generally believed that women were not capable of running marathon distances. Wasn’t the longest officially sanctioned race for women, a mile and a half?
Bobbi—Yes, that’s right.
Jan—Then how did you come to run?
Bobbi—Luckily I was completely outside the formal world of sports and had no idea of the Amateur Athletic Union or of the Boston Athletic Association. In fact when I began running I’d never heard of the Boston Marathon. I was just running through the woods with the neighborhood dogs because I loved to run.
Laurie—You just loved to run?
Bobbi—That’s right. It came naturally to me. When I ran, all the stresses of the day disappeared. I felt like myself, like a bird flying, free and happy. I felt close to something spiritual, close to the mystery of being, you might say. I felt connected with the creative power of life. I feel most alive when I run. I feel the energy of the whole universe pouring through me and I feel grateful to be alive here on this planet in this world.
Jan—So if women weren’t allowed to run, how did you get into the Marathon?
Bobbi—I hid in the bushes near the start—as near the start as I could get without being seen and possibly arrested. I was dressed in my brother’s Bermuda shorts and had a blue hooded sweatshirt pulled up over my hair.
Laurie—But had you trained at all?
Bobbi—Yes. I trained for two years for this race.
Jan—Why? What ever possessed you to want to run and to train in the first place?
Bobbi—I first saw the Boston Marathon in 1964. There were a few hundred people running. I fell in love with it and I’ve been in love with it ever since. I knew these people felt the same way I felt when I ran. I was reconnecting with some ancient potential almost lost in modern society, some deeply moving fundamental core of what it means to be human. And I felt that they were too--that we shared this bond.
Laurie—Did you have a coach? How did you know how to train?
Bobbi—I didn’t. I had no idea. I was unaware of any running books at the time. I just started running further and further, plunging into the unknown. I had no idea how to train and no idea if I could do it. Would my heart give out? Would I die somewhere up in the woods?
Jan—What did you wear? Clearly there were no women’s running clothes then.
Bobbi—I wore nurse’s shoes; that was the sturdiest shoe I could find. I’d worked as a nurse’s aid for a summer in Winchester, Massachusetts where I grew up and went to high school…and a tank top black bathing suit underneath, and depending on the season, shorts and a shirt or bundled up in layers of long underwear and leggings with boots.
Laurie—How did you know how far you were going?
Bobbi—My boyfriend would take me on his motorcycle and we’d measure out miles. Then he’d drop my off and I’d run home.
Jan—So that was it? That was your training?
Bobbi—No there was a lot more than that. The way I trained was very unusual. In the summer of 1964 I set out in a VW van with my malamute puppy across the continent. During the days I ran and at night I slept out under the stars. It was a wonderful journey. I was and still am in love with this country—the land, the people, the history.
Laurie—That was pretty courageous. Setting out like that with no protection, sleeping out at night. Weren’t you afraid?
Bobbi—No it never crossed my mind to be afraid. I was careful. I was a good camper. I knew how to take care of myself in the woods. I loved and still love sleeping out and looking up into the universe at night. I feel at home in the universe and sleeping out and running on the land made me feel at one with nature. And I had Moot with me.
Jan—That’s very unusual for a woman to be so independent and self directed in those times.
Bobbi—Yes, that’s part of what I was trying to change and to find for myself—a sense of authentic autonomy and freedom as a person, as a woman, as a human being. I was following this sense of love I had, this sense of a Divine loving force of all creation and I gloried in the beauty and mystery of everything.
Laurie—And this is how you trained?
Bobbi—(Laughing) Yes. I ran miles and miles. The further west I got the stronger I was. I crossed the Mississippi River and ran out on to the Great Plains. I’d never seen so much space! I’d run for hours. I ran up across the Continental Divide over the Rocky Mountains.
Jan—How long did it take you?
Bobbi—A little more than a month. Every day I’d drive a few hundred miles, taking the back roads. I’d eat at truck stops and meet all kinds of people. People were nice. It was a more trusting world then. We didn’t have the drug problems then… the population pressures. It was a simpler time. And during the days I would run.
I’d see a pale blue mountain on the horizon and spend all day running to the top of it and back to where my van was parked. Moot loved it, too. I was running fifteen to twenty miles at a stretch I estimated.
Laurie—Then what happened?
Bobbi—I came home in September in time for school. I was going to the Tufts School of Special Studies taking physics, calculus, Spanish, biology. This year I had transferred into the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which was affiliated with Tufts.
Jan—So that’s where you studied sculpture?
Jan—That was 1964 and you didn’t run Boston until 1966.
Bobbi—I was going to run it in 1965. I was in fantastic shape.
Bobbi—A few weeks before the race I slipped and fell and sprained both ankles. I kept hoping I’d heal in time. But I was still on crutches on Marathon day. So I had to wait another year.
Jan—Presumably you kept training.
Bobbi—Oh yes. I never missed a day. Even with sprained ankles. I cantered along on crutches. I went out every single day, rain, snow, ice, heat. I was out there training
Laurie—You ran in 1966 and finished ahead of two thirds of the men in a time of three hours, twenty-one minutes and forty seconds. How was this possible if women weren’t allowed to run?
Bobbi—Well that’s the problem isn’t it? How can you prove you can do something if you’re not allowed to do it?
Jan—So you knew you weren’t allowed to do it?
Bobbi—Yes. I’d moved to California in January of 1966 and there I met a group of people from the San Diego Track and Field, including Bill Gookin. He told me you had to apply to run the race. I had no idea. I had thought that people just went out to Hopkinton and kind of got together and ran to Boston. So I wrote to the Boston Athletic Association for an application.
Laurie—And what happened?
Bobbi—That was in February 1966. I received a curt letter in response from Will Cloney, the Race Director, that women were not physiologically able to run marathons and further more they were not allowed to do so. Under the rules of the Amateur Athletic Union the longest sanctioned women’s division race was a mile and a half. They couldn’t take the medical liability.
Jan—What was your reaction?
Bobbi—I was thunderstruck. Here it was again… that mindless discrimination against women that so infuriated me. If you were a woman it seemed you weren’t allowed to do anything. I was angry and hurt. I realized that there was now an even greater reason to run. I had to prove that women could do this and I felt sure that once people realized this, the race would open up. They just didn’t know. Women themselves didn’t know they could do this. Evidently there were no women marathoners at that time except me. Women weren’t allowed to run more than a mile and a half.
And more importantly, I realized that if I could prove this prejudice to be wrong, I would throw into question all the other prejudices and false beliefs about women. I laughed to myself as I thought how many prejudices would crumble as I trotted along for twenty-six point two miles.
Laurie—That sounds like a big responsibility that took a lot of courage.
Bobbi—Yes. But love is irrational and I was in love with the Boston Marathon and now I was going to be making a social statement too. All the more reason to run!
Jan—So what was it like that day on Patriot’s Day, April nineteenth 1966. You’re at the start of the Marathon in Hopkinton. Fill us in.
Bobbi—I’d arrived from California by Greyhound bus the day before the race.
Jan—The day before the race? I can’t imagine even being able to walk after that!
Bobbi—Being young is an amazing gift.
Laurie—Young and in terrific shape, I’d say.
Jan—So what happened? How did your parents react?
Bobbi—They thought I’d gone nuts… around the bend… My dad actually thought I was delusional. They were very worried about me.
Laurie—So how did you get to the start?
Bobbi—The next day, the day of the Marathon, April 19th, Patriots’ Day, my dad went storming out of the house to a sailing regatta at the Tufts Yacht Club. But I convinced my mother to drive me to Hopkinton. I said I had been training for two years and I wasn’t just doing it for myself; I was doing it for all women, to set women free.
Jan—So that struck a chord with her.
Bobbi—Yes, she was a beautiful intelligent woman, frustrated by the restricted life that women were required to live in those days.
Laurie—So she drove you to Hopkinton?
Bobbi—Yes, we started early and drove out the Marathon Route so I could get a look at the course. I’d never seen it before. Then she let me out on the outskirts of Hopkinton.
Jan—How did you feel?
Bobbi—My stomach was still full of the huge roast beef dinner my mother had served the night before. I knew nothing of carbo-loading. I felt kind of stiff and restless after the bus trip, but I was very excited.
Laurie—Were you scared to be making such a public statement?
Bobbi—It’s funny. They say love casts out fear. I was so committed to this race, I’d almost forgotten that I’d be running in front of thousands of people, and I’m kind of a shy person. My biggest fear was that I’d be arrested or stopped from running.
Jan—So what did you do?
Bobbi—I was dressed in my brothers Bermuda shorts and a blue hooded sweatshirt, with the hood up, wearing new boys’ size six running shoes—The new shoes turned out to be a big mistake. I ran to Hopkinton Common, where the race starts and circled around to get the lay of the land. I saw the pen where the men started. I knew if I got into the pen they’d immediately have me removed. I had to stay hidden. I found a clump of bushes as near to the start as I could possibly get. Then, thinking I had to warm up, I went off behind some buildings and ran up and down an alley for thirty to forty minutes.
Laurie—So by the time the race started you’d already run, what three or four miles?
Bobbi—Yes, in my ignorance.
Jan—So you ran what— twenty-nine or thirty miles that day?
Laurie—So if you disguised yourself how would anyone know you had run it?
Bobbi—That was the problem wasn’t it. It was a catch 22, a double bind. I wasn’t allowed to do what I was about to do. I had been told that it was impossible for a woman to do what I was about to do. I had no idea how the other runners would react. I was just kind of feeling my way along, hoping for the best.
Jan—What happened then?
Bobbi—As the time for the start approached, I returned to the bushes and waited. The starting gun fired. I waited for half the pack to go by, then I jumped in. The pack was bunched together and moving slowly.
Laurie—Did the men realize that you were a woman?
Bobbi—I have to give them credit. Within just a few minutes, the guys behind me, studying my anatomy from the rear realized I was a woman. I knew if the runners were hostile they could easily shoulder me out. I was there alone, unprotected. This was the most important moment.
Jan—And what was their reaction?
Bobbi—To my great relief and everlasting gratitude, they were friendly. They said,” Are you a woman?” I smiled and turned around. “It is a woman!” They exclaimed. “I wish my girl friend would run,” one of them said. These guys were great.
“It’s getting hot with this hood on,” I said, “But I’m afraid if they see I’m a woman they will throw me out.”
“We won’t let them throw you out,” They agreed. “It’s a free road.”
Jan—So what happened when you took the hood off?
Bobbi—Again I was apprehensive. Sometimes when you do something this far outside the social norm, people can be hostile. I took the hood off and to my great relief the crowds cheered. The men clapped and said, “Atta go girly!” And the women screamed and shouted. I knew I had to do this in a non-threatening upbeat way to win people over, especially the officials and other runners. I wanted to inspire people to run and I wanted to show that women can do things that they never dreamed they could do.
Laurie—So there you were making a statement in front of thousands of people. Wasn’t it a big responsibility?
Bobbi—Yes. I felt the weight of that responsibility on my shoulders. If I failed to finish, I’d set women and women back another fifty years. So I was running very conservatively. Saving myself for the end.
Jan—So how was it running? How did you feel?
Bobbi—Most of the race was easy for me. I never got out of breath. It was fun. I was holding myself back saving my energy. I talked with the runners around me. Groups of runners would pass then I’d pass runners and we’d chat a bit. I was holding a sub three hour pace without much effort.
Laurie—You must have been in fantastic shape.
Bobbi—I was in pretty good shape after all that training up and down mountains. I’d run sixty-five miles of the Woodstock Vermont Hundred Mile Equestrian Race in September of 1965 and I’d run twenty-plus-mile practice runs in California since January up and down Black Mountain.
Jan—So there you were in the race.
Bobbi—Yes, reporters saw me and started phoning the story ahead. Jerry Nason, a reporter from Winchester, saw history in the making, and reporters from the Record American were tracking my run. A local radio station was also broadcasting my progress as I ran towards Boston.
Laurie—What was the response of the crowd?
Bobbi—Overwhelming and very positive. By the time I reached Wellesley College at the fifteen mile mark, the women knew I was coming and were waiting for me, scanning the faces of the runners looking for me. I know that because Diana Chapman Walsh, who later became president of Wellesley was a student there at the time and she wrote about it in 1996.
Laurie—So what happened when you got to Wellesley?
Bobbi—The women made, what they called the “Screech Tunnel” by standing in two parallel lines facing each other with their arms raised the their hands touching across the top. The runners had to go through the tunnel. When they saw me, they let out a scream. They cheered and jumped up and down. Some of them were crying. One woman standing to the side yelled, “Ave Maria. Ave Maria!” I felt tears come to my eyes.
Jan—They got the message, that something important was happening and that the world would never be the same.
Bobbi—Yes. The spectators and the runners were terrific!
Jan—So then what?
Bobbi—I was feeling good. Ran on conservatively. I didn’t know you were supposed to drink water, so I kept refusing the water that the helpful people brought out to the runners. Then there was Heartbreak Hill.
Laurie—The famous Heartbreak Hill.
Bobbi—Yes, an experience you won’t forget. Going up that hill was the first time I began to feel my energy fall a bit. Up until then I had been cruising along conservatively, holding myself back, burning a nice clear clean steady energy. Now the bottoms of my feet were beginning to hurt, to burn.
Jan—What’s it actually like going up Heartbreak?
Bobbi—Actually it is a series of rises, but I didn’t know that, so when I got to the top of the first rise, I was saying to myself, “That wasn’t so bad.” But then there was another one and another one. Actually it was a relief to be going up because the course is over all down hill from Hopkinton. But you definitely know you are on Heartbreak and going up. There’s no way you can not know you’re going over Heartbreak Hill. Its there, right in your face, just as you are beginning to feel the miles you’ve already run. I was pushing at that point for the first time, not holding back, but drawing on the reserves I’d saved.
Laurie—How did you feel at the top?
Bobbi—Great! Only six more miles. All down hill. And a beautiful view of Boston opened up. I felt for the first time that Boston was within reach. I began to feel that I had it made… except the bottoms of my feet were killing me and my blisters had worn through and hurt. It was a hot day and I was also dehydrated, having had no water for the entire race.
Coming down the other side I really began to feel it in my quads; the fronts of my upper legs began to ache on that long sharp drop by Boston College. Then I was in a tangle of trolley car tracks and wires, definitely in urban Boston now. Then was the Citgo sign. I could feel my pace falling off. It took me as long to run that mile as it had to run the preceding eight miles.
I felt for the first time like a failure and I wondered if anyone would be at the finish by the time I got there. Buses of runners who had dropped out passed by waving and shouting.
The spectators were great. “One more mile!” They kept chanting. It was the longest mile of the race. This was definitely not one of my better runs. I wasn’t used to running on pavement and my new shoes were killing my feet. I wished I’d worn my trusty old nurses’ shoes instead. I hadn’t broken in my new shoes.
Finally I turned down Hereford Street. People were hanging out of windows, drinking beer, shouting, clapping. They had crowded into the street so there was only a narrow passage.
I turned left onto Boylston and amazingly everyone was still there!! Thousands of people yelled and clapped. My spirits picked up and I trotted down the road, and ran across the finish line, with a sense of elation welling up inside me. I’d done it! I’d pursued my dream despite overwhelming obstacles. I’d run the Boston Marathon. I felt a great sense of triumph.
The Press closed in around me and whisked me off to a hotel room with cameras flashing and pens scribbling on note pads.
I’d finished in three hours, twenty-one minutes and forty seconds ahead of two thirds of the pack. Not one of my better runs… but OK given all the handicaps.
Jan—It must have been an unforgettable experience!
Bobbi—Yes, it was certainly that.
Laurie—And how did your parents react when you got home?
Bobbi—My poor parents! I took a taxi home and when I got to my house reporters were everywhere. I’d never met the press before and I liked them. My parents were standing in the middle of the living room, completely bewildered .The phone was ringing. Friends were calling to congratulate them on their daughter.
Jan—They must have been very proud.
Bobbi—Yes. What has this daughter of ours done now?
Laurie—You had done something that had never been done before.
Bobbi—The next day it was front-page headlines! Word went out by wire around the world that a woman had run the Boston Marathon!
Jan—Something that was thought impossible. How did that make you feel?
Bobbi—The headlines said, “Hub Bride First Gal to Run Marathon!” Later an article came out in Sports Illustrated. Dozens of articles appeared and, as I hoped, according to one article, a representative from the Amateur Athletic Association came out in favor of women running the marathon and was going to seek a rule change that would allow women.
It was funny. When I started training in 1964 I had no idea women weren’t allowed and that I’d be making a fundamental social statement. And then when my run created such a huge impression, I wasn’t expecting that either. It took me by surprise and it made me happy. I felt I’d done something to make the world better and to make people’s beliefs truer.
Jan—You came back again in 1967 and ran it again.
Bobbi—Evidently there were still some doubting Thomases who still couldn’t believe that a woman could run a marathon. It shows how deeply rooted prejudices are. I realized I was just going to keep running this thing until everyone believed it. But it wasn’t just that—I was still in love with Boston and I wanted to be part of it again.
Bobbi—My friend, Bill Gookin, in San Diego tells a funny story about doubting Thomases. The prejudice against women being able to run marathon distances was so deeply rooted, that even after I had proved it wrong, there were those who still couldn’t believe it. Ed, Bill’s brother was one of them.
So one day Bill casually invited Ed and another friend and me to run to the top of Black Mountain and back. I was living in Del Mar, California and that was about a twenty mile round trip.
We set out. I started slowly to warm up. By the time we reached the Mountain Bill and I were in the lead. We clambered up the steep slope to the top, turned around and admired the Pacific Ocean, gleaming in the distance. Bill and I were jumping boulder to boulder back down the mountain when we passed Ed and his friend going up.
By this time I was warmed up and feeling good. Bill and I picked up our pace back to Del Mar and were sitting there cooling our heels, when a half and hour or so later Ed and his friend dragged in.
Bill calls that the day Ed became a true believer. And we are all still good friends to this day!
Jan—(laughing) Good that you are still friends.
Laurie—So, how was 67 different from 66?
Bobbi—First of all I didn’t have to hide in the bushes. I stood right out in the open at the starting line. And I was wearing black leotards and a paisley print blouse, with my hair up—very feminine. Plus it was a cool day, not as hot a 1966. But I was now enrolled in the University of California at La Jolla, Revelle College, a very difficult school, taking a pre-med curriculum and I hadn’t trained nearly as much.
Jan—Did you know that there was another woman in the race?
Bobbi—Not until I got home and read the papers later. The press had been calling my parents for weeks asking if I was coming home, if I was going to run. I had a bad case of flu and I didn’t know if I could run or not. Finally I decided that flu or not I had to run.
Laurie—So how did the race go.
Bobbi—It went very well except at one point, because of the flu, I think, I couldn’t breathe. I lay down on someone’s lawn and they called my father and the ambulance. But after about ten minutes, whatever it was released and much to everyone’s amazement I leapt up and continued running to Boston.
In 1967 the atmosphere was less friendly. I didn’t know why until I read the evening paper later. When I got to the finish line, there were men with arms linked and I just ran around them and finished beside the finish line and kept on running. I’d run the distance and that’s what counted. Now no one could doubt it. I’d been followed and tracked the entire way, just as I had the year before.
Laurie—You finished in 3:27:17, an hour ahead of the other woman competitor, Kathryn Switzer.
Jan—How did that make you feel?
Bobbi—Well I didn’t like to see the negativity that surrounded her approach. I felt that it would end up setting women’s running back. This was exactly what I was trying to avoid. I wanted to keep it upbeat and inspirational.
Laurie—What was different that year?
Bobbi—For one thing it was no longer front-page headlines. The breakthrough…my breakthrough had occurred the year before in 1966. That a woman was running the marathon was no longer news. Everyone knew I was coming to run again. In 1967 there were photos of me and photos of her on the sports page, no longer on the front page. She had evidently somehow gotten an illegal number in the men’s division race and this had upset the officials who had tried to remove it.
Jan—So what’s the deal! Why were they upset at her and not at you?
Laurie—It had to do with the rules of the AAU, didn’t it?
Bobbi—Yes, prior to 1972, when the first officially sanctioned women’s division marathon opened in Boston, there was no sanctioned women’s division in Boston and this was because in part, the AAU, did not sanction races for women longer than a mile and a half.
Laurie—So technically both you and Switzer were running in the unsanctioned women’s division race?
Bobbi—Right. A woman is not qualified to run in the men’s division race any more that a man is qualified to run in a woman’s division race.
Jan—So you weren’t breaking the rules. You were making your quiet dignified demonstration that a woman could run and marathon and run it very well.
Bobbi—Yes, I was running in, and winning, the yet-to-be sanctioned women’s division Boston Marathon.
Laurie—Then in 1968 you returned again and ran again.
Bobbi—Yes, my third win. This time there were five women running. Switzer was nowhere in sight and the unpleasantness of the year before seemed to have disappeared.
The women entered in various places near the start, wherever they could do so without drawing attention. In my case, I entered from the bushes, because after the negative reception the year before, I wasn’t sure if they’d try to stop me. Again I warmed up before the race by running several miles, so again it was a long running day for me of perhaps twenty eight to thirty miles, not just the twenty-six point two course.
One woman, Elaine Pedersen, was running with a men’s division number that she admitted her boyfriend got for her, but no one took notice or photographs.
There was an endearing photo of Mrs. Fish and her husband, a doctor, who had run it together. The idea was beginning to catch on, as I had hoped.
I was not in as good shape this year, since I’d been working very hard at the university taking courses in chemistry, biology, mathematics as well as philosophy. The attrition rate at that college was something like seventy-five percent. I love learning and studying, but it meant I didn’t have as much time to train. I was coasting.
Laurie—Yet you did very well… in 3:30:17
Bobbi—Yes, it was ok. But not as well as if I’d been able to really train.
Jan—It’s amazing that you could run a 3:30:17 marathon without training.
Bobbi—I’d built up a good back ground and I have a lot of natural stamina and speed and I was keeping up a platform of running probably fifty to sixty miles a week.
Laurie—I would have loved to have seen what you could have done with a good coach. I bet it would have been phenomenal.
Bobbi—I was a natural runner. I loved it. But… you know… life intervened. This is before there were opportunities for women in a lot of areas including running. I helped to change that, but in some sense it was not soon enough for me. If I were twenty now… who knows. I’m just happy that I had a part in breaking open those terrible limits that had stifled women for so many centuries.
Jan—You were known as the “Matron Saint” of the Boston Marathon.
Bobbi—Yes. I never thought of myself as a matron or a saint, but that is what they called me.
Laurie—So fast forward to 1996, the hundredth anniversary of the Boston Marathon and the thirtieth anniversary of your first run in 1966. You were formally and officially recognized as the first woman to ever run the Boston Marathon and as the three time women’s winner in 1966, 1967 and 1968.
Bobbi—Yes, I was given a gold medal with the three dates inscribed on the back and my name was carved on the granite Marathon Memorial in Copley Square with the names of all the other winners.
Jan—That was a big moment. How did it make you feel?
Bobbi—Gratified and accepted finally after all those years… understood. As if now I had been accepted into the community and my accomplishments valued. They understood how hard it had been. I am still a member of the BAA, The Boston Athletic Association. They are like my second family and every time I come here I feel part of that family.
Jan—But can I ask you a tough question?
Jan—Given all this. Given all you’ve done. Why is it that so many people think that Kathryn Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon?
Bobbi—They are misinformed.
Jan—She has made a career out of it. She claims to have been the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon with an official number and she advertises herself as such repeatedly. It’s even on her website. It always seemed a little fishy to me to me, because if she were really an officially sanctioned runner the officials would not have been trying to throw her out. But the truth is that she was not official at all. She could not have been an official entrant in a men’s division race.
Laurie—That’s right. Let me interject here. What makes a number official is that it belongs to an officially sanctioned runner. She had an invalid number because she was not qualified to run in a men’s division race any more that a man is qualified to run in a women’s division race.
That was why Jock Semple was so angry. He felt he had been tricked. More importantly, under the rules of the AAU, if a race allows an unsanctioned or unqualified runner, it can lose its accreditation and that would invalidate all the running times of the qualified runners.
Bobbi—Jock has been much maligned wrongfully. He was not against women. He even said he didn’t mind if a woman ran if she was well trained like the “Gibb girl.” But the marathon was his life, and it was in jeopardy because of Kathy’s illegal number. He had to abide by the AAU rules.
Laurie—In his book, “Call Me Jock,” he commented that he had seen you at the start of the 1966 race but didn’t try to stop you because you hadn’t cheated to get an illegal number.
Jan—Does it bother you when people ask you why you weren’t in the starting pen with the other runners?
Bobbi—Yes it does because it shows that they don’t understand the reality of the situation. I knew that I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing. I’d written honestly for an application, not hiding my gender, and I’d been refused. That’s the whole point. If I’d tried to get in the starting pen with the men, I would have been thrown out and prevented from running. I was running in the first ever women’s division marathon, albeit it as yet unsanctioned, and it started where I started. In fact it started in a sense when I got out of my mother’s car and began the forty-five or so minutes of running I put in before the race even started. I hid in the bushes as close to the starting line as I could get. I waited for half the men to leave before I started. What else could I do?
Jan—So it must be frustrating when the facts are twisted around now, to make it seem as though you were doing something wrong not being in the pen, when in 1966 you were being told that you were doing something wrong to be running at all.
Bobbi—(Laughing) It’s a bit like Orwellian double think.
Laurie— Does it bother you when misinformed people now call you a ‘bandit.”
Bobbi—Of course it does. It’s more of the same Owellian double think. A man without a number would have been a bandit, because there was an opportunity for him to run it legally. But for me, and other women, there was no way to run legally in the men’s division race. In 1966 I was running in the first and only as yet unsanctioned women’s division race.
Jan—What about when people ask if you were “official’?
Bobbi—It’s more of the same Orwellian double talk. There were no official women marathon runners at Boston or anywhere else, until the AAU rules changed. There were no official women entrants at Boston until 1972. None of us were “official.” They miss the whole point of my run! I had applied and been refused, but I ran anyway at a time when it was almost universally believed that women were not capable of running marathon distances, this helped to change the then prevalent prejudices about women. Now, given the fantastic achievements of women athletes, it is almost inconceivable that there ever was a time when women weren’t allowed to run and were thought incapable of such feats. They don’t understand why I had to hide in the bushes and why I couldn’t be an official entrant. So they ask me if I was “official?” And I ask them what they mean by that. Later I was officially recognized as the first woman to run the Boston Marathon and officially recognized as the women’s winner in 1966, 1967 and 1968.
Laurie—Yet Switzer claims to have been the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon. A naïve reader comes away with the impression that she was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon and that she was officially sanctioned and recognized as such by the authorities.
Jan—The word, “official” has the connotation of “legitimate, real, genuine, sanctioned, recognized by the officials as officials.” Where as the word “unofficial” connotes, “fake, fraudulent, unsanctioned, unrecognized by the officials, not real.” So by making the false claim that you were “unofficial” and she was “official,” Kathy can reduce the importance and credibility of your achievement and exaggerate her own importance. In fact by calling herself “first” she can erase you from history altogether. How does that make you feel?
Bobbi—I have faith that in the end truth will prevail.
Jan—What about when people ask why you didn’t have a number?
Bobbi—It’s the same thing; they are missing the point. There were no sanctioned, legal numbers for women before 1972. I had written for my application, but the BAA wouldn’t even send me the application form. In those days the men had to submit a certificate from their doctor and take a pre-race physical, as well as submit the application.
Jan—Then how did Kathryn Switzer get a number?
Bobbi—I’m not privy to that information. All I know is that for me, as a woman, to get a number in the men’s division race, I would have had to lie about my real my name and gender on the application, falsify the required medical records and get a man to take the pre-race physical exam for me.
Laurie—So it wasn’t a simple matter.
Bobbi—No, and what would I have after doing all that? –A fraudulent, invalid number in the men’s division race. The point was not to trick the officials into giving me an illegal number. The point was to demonstrate that I could run a marathon and run it well.
Jan—So, far from being official, Kathy was less legal than you. She was running with an illegal and invalid men’s division number even though technically she was in the unsanctioned women’s division race.
Laurie—It seems a bit like damned if you do damned if you don’t.
Bobbi—What do you mean?
Laurie—I mean in 1966 damned if you had a number and damned if you were in the starting pen and now it’s been twisted around to be damned if you didn’t have a number and weren’t in the starting pen.
Jan—There you were crouched in the bushes, about to do something that had never been done before in the history of the world, something you had been told was impossible for a woman to do, something you had been explicitly forbidden from doing. You had written honestly for an application, not hiding your gender, and had been refused because you were a woman.
Laurie—You had come three thousand miles on a bus and had run three or four miles before you got to the start. You knew if you were seen you’d be stopped, perhaps arrested. You got as close to the start as you could. You waited until half the runners had gone. What else in God’s name could you have done? And incidentally marathons start slowly for all but the front runners. Your start, far from being an advantage was an extreme disadvantage. And in case there were any doubts, you came back the next year and started openly at the start line, and still waited for half the pack to leave. And, if that wasn’t enough, you came back the next year and did it again! Wow! You were one determined chick.
Jan—So Kathy has had access to the press all these years and you haven’t.
Bobbi—This has been going on for decades. I first became aware of it in the late seventies, watching a TV broadcast in which she misrepresented herself as the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. She was introduced as such. My friends and I were outraged and wrote to the TV station. The station later corrected the error. But it kept happening.
An article came out in MS magazine falsely portraying her as the first woman to run Boston with no mention of me. I wrote to the author, Marlene Simmons, who apologized and said yes she did know that I was the first but had been asked to ignore it. Had been asked by whom? Switzer couldn’t be getting away with this without the complicity of other people in the press.
Marlene said she felt badly about it and would make it up to me by writing another article for Running Magazine, which she did.
She and I actually talked with Switzer and arranged to be on TV together to straighten the thing out. I didn’t want to have this going on right at the crux of the very new and fragile women’s movement.
Bobbi—When Marlene and I got to the TV station, we were literally locked out. We caught a glimpse of Kathy in there in front of the camera. The door was shut.
Bobbi—I thought sisterhood was supposed to be about a higher standard of personal ethics, about caring for and helping each other, about encouraging and supporting each other, about being honest.
Laurie—I guess not. Not at least for some.
Bobbi—I truly believe that most women would agree with me and most women were making an effort to help one another.
Jan—It bothers me that no one takes Switzer up on this stuff. She is deluding the public and giving the impression to everyone that she was the first. She has those photos, which she uses as her trademark of Jock trying to remove her illegal number. It’s like a cigarette ad—an image, the Malboro Man… Smoke Cools… or Virginia Slims.
Laurie—That’s her career, PR, sports announcing, race promotion getting race sponsorship.
Jan—But it’s false advertising. It’s not good for her in the long run. When people find out the truth, they are angry. She looses credibility. And it certainly casts a shadow over the running community. And its not good for women either to find out that a woman who has marketed herself as a women’s rights advocate has been less than honest.
Laurie—I notice that you were not included in the film about the Chicago Marathon—The Spirit of the Marathon.
Bobbi—I was interviewed for the film. Jon Dunham spent several hours interviewing me, but then it was cut out of the final version.
Jan—Why am I not surprised? This is outrageous. What is being done to you is exactly what women complain about Patriarchy having done to women through out history: erasure, minimization and inversion.
Bobbi—I want to give her credit for whatever she has legitimately done. I’m not quite sure what that is. I know she worked for a cosmetics corporation and promoted women’s running to market cosmetics at one point. I know she’s a sports announcer. She knows the sport; she knows the runners. I know she’s written a book about herself. Her husband and she co-authored an excellent book on the history of the marathon with great photos.
Laurie—Have you read her book?
Bobbi—Bits and pieces.
Jan—What did you think?
Bobbi—It was interesting to see what was going on behind the scenes, but I think many people, men and women who worked very hard to get the AAU rules changed and to get title IX passed did not write about themselves and were not given the credit they deserved. A lot was left out about the Olympic Marathon and the Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials, for which, incidentally, I made the sculptures that served as first, second and third prizes. Laurel James, the woman who really organized the first women’s Olympic Marathon Trials, to my knowledge, was not even mentioned at all.
Laurie—And so it goes. You were given short shrift. I noticed that… very small print and couched in terms that discounted your accomplishment.
Jan—And to think, you ran to demonstrate the truth…
Laurie—The truth is that all these years Kathryn Switzer been the second place finisher in the second year of the women’s yet-to-be sanctioned division…while you are the real first woman of Boston.
Laurie—If the positions had been reversed, what would you have done.
Bobbi—Interesting question. If I’d been her, I would have said something like—
“I’m Kathryn Switzer and I was the second woman to have run the Boston Marathon. Bobbi Gibb ran it in 1966, the year before me. Before her I never dreamed a woman could run a marathon. She inspired me. In 1967 we both ran it, and Bobbi finished an hour ahead of me. I have a lot of admiration for Bobbi and I’m glad to say that we are very good friends. “That’s what I would have said and that’s the way I would have liked it to be.
Jan—Well that is revealing. What would you have said about the number?
Bobbi—That’s a bit more difficult, because if I had been Switzer, who was a member of the Amateur Athletic Union and had a professional coach, I would have known the basic tenet of competitive sports, namely that men and women are not qualified to compete in each other’s sanctioned events. So I wouldn’t have had a number.
Jan—But suppose you had gotten a number? Maybe your boyfriend gave it to you, or you did it for a lark or something. What would you say about it after the fact?
Bobbi—Hmm. That’s a tough one. I’d want to be honest about it…. I guess I’d have to say, “Yes, I knew I wasn’t qualified to be an official runner, I just wanted to do it anyway. I’m sorry it created such a negative response and that poor old Jock went flying.” Something like that.
Jan—In a way she stole your achievement and falsely promoted herself at your expense.
Bobbi—I can’t control what another person does or says. I have my own important work to be doing. I don’t have much access to the press. I just have to trust that eventually people will find the truth. Meanwhile I have the satisfaction of knowing that I really was the first woman, and that what I did was a pivotal event in changing social consciousness at the very beginning of both the running movement and the second wave of the women’s movement.
Laurie—But you’ve written a book haven’t you?
Bobbi—I’ve written many books. I actually started writing my memoir in 1996.
Laurie—So where are these books?
Bobbi—Some of them I’ve published myself. I’m trying to find a publisher now for A Kind of Innocence, the book I wrote about training for and running the Boston Marathon from 1964 to 1966.
I’m looking for an agent and a publisher.
Laurie—What other books have you written?
Bobbi—Two books on economics: The Art of Inflation in 1980 and the Art of Economics in 1982, which I’m now revising and rewriting, a book of essays entitled, 26.2 Essays by Bobbi Gibb, the First Woman to Run and Win at Boston, a book about my spiritual experiences, a book about my early years, and another book about the years after 1966, which I still writing.
Jan—That’s a lot. I’d love to read them. Anything else?
Bobbi—I’ve written a book about meditation and running. I’m in the process of compiling the newsletters I wrote for the Institute for the Study of Natural Systems. I’m also writing a book about the eighteen months I took care of someone I loved who was dying of cancer. I’ve written about morality, law, science— all kinds of things that I study and think about. I love to figure things out— put puzzles together.
I’m also making a film and am looking for a producer and investors.
Laurie—You have many talents.
Bobbi—I’ve always fought for what is fair and true in the face of what is unfair and untrue. My motto is “Inspire with truth.” When something is wrong I try to help to correct it. I believe that the truth is healing and freeing and deceit is confounding and imprisoning.
Jan—Yes, I can see that.
Laurie— So you ran and won the yet-to-be-sanctioned women’s division Boston Marathon in 1966, 1967 and 1968. What happened in 1969?
Bobbi—I didn’t go.
Bobbi—In 1969 I was taking my finals at the University of California and applying to medical school.
I’d made my point. I’d changed the world’s consciousness about women’s physical abilities and had thrown open the question of what else can women do that was thought impossible.
I’d fallen in love with the Boston Marathon. I’d trained for it. I’d run it and won it three times. That was my intent. Now I had to think about the rest of my life. What was my life’s work going to be? How was I going to earn a living? Was I going to get married and have children? I had to grow up.
So running became for me what it had been in the first place—
a way of relaxing, a place to think, a meditation, a doorway on to the Divine.
Jan—What do you mean a doorway to the Divine? That sounds kind of esoteric.
Bobbi—Not esoteric. Fundamental. I have always been very immediately aware of the miracle of existence, the sense of Presence and Mystery, the feeling of the immediacy of the Creator in all this. But as you’ll see if you read my books, especially A Kind of Innocence, my idea of the Creator changed as I matured and I discovered something which to me was quite wonderful and has stayed with me all these years.
Jan—How does this relate to running?
Bobbi—It is running I love. I love it because the bare act of running brings me into contact with the entire universe and I can feel the life force of the earth flowing through me. I feel most like myself when I run. And I still run an hour or two a day. Although I appreciate what they do, I was not at all interested in becoming a race organizer or promoter. I was and am a runner, first and foremost.
I could run forty miles across the desert. Who cares if anyone else knew it or not. It was between me and the desert and the Creator of all Being, which I could feel most strongly when I ran.
Laurie—So getting back to 1969. You were premed but you ended up in law school, what happened?
Bobbi—When I went for my med school interviews they told me, “I was too pretty. I’d upset the boys in the lab.” They had to save the places in med school for men who would really practice medicine. Obviously, I was going to get married and have children. That was in 1969. Evidently they had not heard about the Boston Marathon yet.
Jan—Did you sue them?
Bobbi—I didn’t but later a group of women did. Perhaps that was one of the reasons I went into law.
Laurie—In 1969, 1970 and 1971 Sara Mae Berman won the women’s division at Boston.
Bobbi—Yes. She’s wonderful. She and I have become good friends. Her husband Larry trained her and she did very well. In 1996, the BAA officially recognized her wins as well as mine and her name follows mine on the Marathon Memorial.
Jan—So as the women’s running movement was slowly beginning to gather steam, what were you doing?
Bobbi—I married a man I absolutely adored. We moved to San Francisco. That is where I became interested in neuroscience. I was already studying thermodynamics. One of my collateral ancestors was Josiah Willard Gibbs, a great American scientist who made great contributions in the field of thermodynamics, some of which led to things like refrigeration, which we now take for granted.
I was making a study of thermodynamics attempting to understand the subtleties of such things as “heat.” What exactly is heat? I was also reviewing my physics and tackling such questions as what is “mass.” These questions had intrigued me in my courses, but I hadn’t had enough time to think them out.
I love to think. I love to understand and to learn and to know things. Why is the world such that there is mass and heat? What sorts of existence do they have? When I studying these things I feel as if I’m looking at the very mind of God you might say. How is it that the world is created in this way and not some other? To me it is a miracle of immense proportions.
Laurie—Did you keep up your running?
Bobbi—Of course I did! I would drive over the Golden Gate Bridge to Point Reyes National Park and run through those magnificent, ancient redwood trees for hours. I was in heaven! And as I ran I would think. Running and thinking go well together. I would glory in the beauty of the place!
Jan—How did you like living in San Francisco?
Bobbi—I loved it. What a beautiful city! I was so happy being married to the man of my dreams. It was like being in the Garden of Eden before the fall.
I remember a funny thing that happened. One day I was sitting in a café down by the waterfront reading a book on thermodynamics and a smallish man sat down in the next table and kept staring at me. Finally he got up and came and sat at my table. I was a bit miffed at the intrusion. Couldn’t he see I was studying thermodynamics and didn’t want to be bothered? But as he talked I became charmed. He asked me my name. I told him my new married name.
“Any relation to Raquel Welch?” he asked.
“Welch is my married name,” I said coldly.
But finally he got me laughing.
After a half an hour or so he got up and as he handed me his card, he said, “If you ever want to be in the movies, give me a call.”
I looked down at the card. It said, “Play It Again Sam. Woody Allen.”
Laurie—Talk about paths not taken.
Bobbi—I often think how different my life would have been if I’d made that phone call. But then I was in love with my husband and looking forward to starting a family. We were going to have six kids!
Jan—So as women’s running was developing in the 1970’s you were pursuing a different path.
Bobbi—Yes. I’d made my point three times and now I had to get on with the rest of my life. I hoped that the idea would spread and that more and more people would take up running and take up marathon running.
Jan—So what happened next?
Bobbi—We moved back to Boston in 1972. During the seventies I went to law school at night and worked with Jerry Lettvin at MIT in neuroscience during the days. One year I was a legal aid to a State Legislator. In the midst of all the other things in my life, I was pregnant and had a baby.
Jan—How was that?
Bobbi—Of all the things I’ve ever done, having a baby was the best. I often tell my son that having him was the best thing I ever did. He and I have had a blast together! I count him now as my best friend.
Laurie—So after making the ultimate feminist statement, you went back to the traditional role of mother?
Bobbi—I loved being a mother, but I also had a career. I always felt I had a ‘right work’ to do—something to give the world—Part of that was having a child and encouraging him to grow up to be all that he can be.
Jan—So what did you do then?
Bobbi— I passed my Bar Exam. I was also studying and writing in the field of economics. I wrote a book entitle, “The Art of Inflation,” explaining what inflation is and how to stop it.
Laurie—What happened to the neuroscience?
Bobbi—I was studying the visual system and epistemology with Jerry at MIT. My son, as a small baby, spent many hours with me in Jerry’s lab.
Jan—So that was the seventies. What about the eighties?
Bobbi— In 1982 I was inducted into the Road Runners of America Hall of Fame.
Jan—That was quite an accomplishment.
Bobbi—Yes. I was very honored.
Laurie—What else were you doing?
Bobbi—I became involved with the environmental movement and in the early 80’s co-produced a documentary on alternative energy guru, Amory Lovins. I became part of a national affiliate to an international think tank on global issues. And I started my own nonprofit group called the Institute for the Study of Natural Systems and studied and wrote about natural systems. And of course I was beginning my practice of law.
Jan—What kind of law?
Bobbi—Mostly intellectual and real property law.
Jan—What else were you doing in the eighties?
Bobbi—I co-founded an organization called World Wide Runners for Peace. That was during the 80’s when Helen Caldicott’s book, Nuclear Madness had everyone in an uproar about the stupidity of the arms race with the Soviet Union.
Jan—How were the eighties different from the sixties?
Bobbi—It’s funny, one of the things I wanted to inspire when I ran Boston in the sixties, was to end to the war between the sexes. Prior to that time the roles were very gender specific. Even personality traits were gender identified. Women were supposed to have the emotions and men had the minds. Women’s bodies were for sex and pro-creation, men’s bodies were for sports and physically demanding activities. Women had exclusive care of the children and kitchen. Men went out to work.
I wanted things to open up so that women could have strong bodies and minds and men could have emotions and take part in child raising; women could go out to work and men could stay home if that is what the couple wanted, or better yet they could share child rearing and working.
And by the eighties, twenty years later, these shifts were visibly in process. In other words men and women could both get to be full human beings with minds, bodies, emotions according to their individual personalities and unique talents, not according to some stereotypical image.
Laurie—Yes, I see the difference too. It’s amazing the change.
Bobbi—The other thing I wanted to inspire was running. I wanted people to get out an experience the same connection, health and stress-relief that I experienced when I ran. By the eighties running was catching on, not just competitive running for the top athletes, but recreational running for everyone. That was a big change from the sixties. Whereas in the sixties a woman who ran in public was very far outside the social norm, by the eighties women were running in public everywhere.
Jan—It is amazing how things have changed. Young people now have no idea how it was forty-five years ago or even twenty-five years ago.
Laurie— Like the sixties, the eighties were a time of change. In the sixties there was the build up of the Vietnam under Kennedy and Johnson and there was the Civil Rights Movement. In the eighties there was Reagan and Gorbachev and the cold war.
Bobbi—Yes, and during the 80’s there was a grass roots movement of Americans reaching out to the Soviet people, and vice versa, both sides saying, “Hey we don’t want war. We want to be friends.” There was the very successful Sister Cities program, where American cities and Soviet cities paired up, even as the tensions between the two governments escalated.
Laurie—You ran Boston again in 1986.
Bobbi—Yes, but first I had to qualify, so I ran the New York Marathon in 1985 to qualify for Boston. New York was a great experience. Flags from nations all over the globe were draped around the hall. People from all over the world were there.
Laurie—Do you remember your time?
Bobbi—It was something like three hours and nineteen minutes. But I have to confess, between my law practice and being a mother, and my continued work in neuroscience and epistemology and my studies of natural systems, although I ran every day and kept a base of between fifty and sixty miles a week, I had little time to train up for a marathon.
Laurie—Fifty or sixty miles a week was about eight miles a day.
Bobbi—Eight miles was a short run for me. It was less than an hour. I suppose some weeks I actually ran a lot more than that without realizing it since I ran mostly in the woods. On the weekends sometimes I’d go out and run two or three hours.
Jan—Still it was remarkable that twenty years later you could just casually pop in and run a faster marathon than you had in 1966.
Bobbi—Well there were a lot fewer obstacles and pressures in 1985. I didn’t have to hide in the bushes. I had an official number. I could start with everyone else. I was lost in the pack and didn’t have the pressure of having so much resting on my shoulders.
Laurie—I still would have loved to see what you could have done with some proper training and a coach.
Bobbi—Yeah it would have been fun. I love running. But you know my priorities changed. I had other responsibilities. And for me running is a way to reconnect with nature and with the source of all being. That can sometime get lost when one starts to drive one’s self. For me, running was natural and easy, like flying is for a bird. What I loved best was to run free and happy along the beach or through the deep mysterious forests, glorying in the incredible beauty of creation.
Jan—So during the 80’s when the running boom was picking up steam and more and more cities adopted major marathons, running clothes and shoe became hot items, and races became major social events, you ran New York and then Boston.
Bobbi—For many women, running around the block was the first step in reclaiming their own autonomy, their sense of self. It was wonderful. This is the way social change is accomplished. First one person does it, then another, and ten people, a hundred people, a thousand people and them millions of people. It was a grass roots spontaneous movement and very democratic thing and I love that. It’s just what I wanted to happen.
Laurie—So how did Boston go in 1986?
Bobbi—A few days before the race I pulled my hamstring piggy packing my son up three flights of stairs. I knew I shouldn’t have run, but I ran anyway and finished in over four hours. My worse marathon yet. But it was great fun being out there with all the other runners and seeing old friends again.
Jan—Did you get any media attention?
Bobbi—Yes there was a big interest in my return and my running again. People actually had the story straight for a while.
Laurie—So what were you doing in the eighties?
Bobbi—Practicing law. I’d won my first big case up against a formidable Boston firm. I’d taken a patent law case and was collaborating with a patent law firm in Boston, for which I continued to work after we settled the case in Federal Court. I was still working on my studies of natural systems and economics, and becoming more involved with the national affiliate of the international think tank, which addresses interrelated global problems, such as environmental degradation, population shifts, poverty, and the like. I gave a talk in Washington entitled, Visions and Social Consciousness, outlining the way in which I thought the world should move in terms of solving these problems.
Jan—That sounds like a lot.
Bobbi—It was, but I loved it.
Laurie—Were you still running?
Bobbi—Of course! That is central to my life. But one unfortunate thing happened that set my running back temporarily.
Jan—What was that?
Bobbi—In the winter of 1989, I fell on some black ice and broke my ankle. The doctor said he didn’t think I would run again.
Laurie—That must have been a blow
Bobbi—I was determined to run again. I ran on crutches with the cast. When the cast was removed my foot was frozen in place. I couldn’t flex my ankle at all. I sat for hours, as I read, on the edge of the bathtub, with my blue, frozen foot in hot water, trying to move it ever so slightly. I kept at it for weeks determined to run again.
Bobbi—I kept working at it and started slowly. I regained full mobility and have run thousands of miles since then.
Laurie—So persistence pays.
Jan— So then into the nineties. In 1996 you were honored by the BAA. What else was happening in your life?
Bobbi—One of my dearest friends, came down with cancer. He lived with me for eighteen unforgettable, amazing months. That took most of my energy in the early nineties.
Laurie—You mentioned that you were writing a book about it.
Bobbi—Yes. I’m working on it, slowly, with everything else I have to do. After he passed on I decided that if I didn’t give my sculpture and writing a chance, I’d never know what I could do, so I wound down my law practice and returned to California. I began to sculpture and write full time and loved it.
Jan—You could make a living sculpting?
Bobbi—My sculptures were selling well. I was still working on my studies of natural systems looking again at some of the fundamentals of physics and economics. My son matriculated in the University of California, studying neuroscience and I was keeping up my study of neuroscience as well, also reviewing physics, relativity theory, and some quantum mechanics and expanding my writing.
Laurie—Were you taking classes?
Bobbi—No. I was reading on my own and auditing classes, teaching myself. I began to explore the possibility of making my story into a film, with some success.
Laurie—But you haven’t made your big film yet?
Bobbi—No. I didn’t just want to option it off. I wanted to be involved with the production. In 2000 I did make a documentary, though.
Laurie—Yes, I saw it on your website. I liked it. Very moving and beautiful.
Jan—So you spent the nineties in California?
Bobbi—Yes. I moved back to Del Mar, the same town where I’d lived in the sixties, when I was a student at the University of California.
Bobbi—Of course. Always running. In California I ran for miles barefoot on the beach.
Laurie—You ran the Boston Marathon again in 2001. What was that about?
Bobbi—One of my best friends had come down with ALS.
Jan—Lou Gehrig’s disease?
Bobbi—Yes, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a horrible paralytic disease. So I was running the marathon to help raise money for the lab at Massachusetts General Hospital that had done some pioneering work on the disease.
Laurie—How did that go?
Bobbi—The race itself was a disaster. I’d trained, but had come down with severe bronchitis. I’d been on TV fund raising for the lab and had received a lot of media attention, so, sick as I was, I felt I couldn’t not run.
Jan—That must have been torture.
Bobbi—My friend, Ed Rice ran with me. I started out OK, but by Wellesley I was going from tree to tree, from water station to water station. “Let’s see if we can make it to the next tree,” I’d moan, and we’d set our eyes on a tree, far down the road.
Laurie—That sounds extreme.
Bobbi—It was. We made it to the top of Heartbreak Hill. There was a cold easterly headwind. Ed was freezing in his shorts. I had on leotards. He wanted to finish in under five hours, so I said, “Go on ahead,” I’m getting on the medical bus. So I boarded the bus that picks up stragglers and we headed back to Wellesley.
After forty minutes on the bus, leaning over the seat ahead of me, with severe chest and stomach pains, I noticed that the bus had arrived back at the top of Heartbreak Hill again to the spot where I’d gotten on. Suddenly I realized that I wanted to finish the race. “Stop the bus, I want to get off,” I shouted.
Jan—You are intrepid.
Bobbi—A young woman, Rebecca Wolfe, from Harvard grad school, surmising my condition, jumped off behind me and we set out for the Hancock finish line. I’d never seen this end of the race before, streets littered with paper cups, crowds drifting away. At some point we were running through crowds of people who were drinking.
The wind was freezing cold, but I was running better now.
Jan—What an ordeal.
Bobbi—Just as we turned the corner from Hereford to Boylston and headed down the home stretch, passed the empty bleachers, two huge street sweeping machines started up and escorted us to the finish line. The irony of it!
“The last shall be first and the first shall be last,” I laughed. I glanced up at the clock and it had stopped. The face was dark. Over six hours… And worse of all, my automatic timer, attached to my running shoe had stopped transmitting when I got on the bus, and there was no record of my finish at all. But I’d run the whole race. And the group I was running with earned over a hundred thousand dollars for the lab.
Laurie—Amazing that you did that.
Jan—You say you are now working for the lab. How did that happen?
Bobbi—A few weeks later, a friend and I went to talk with Dr. Brown, the head of the lab at MGH. He told me about this mysterious, deadly, paralytic disease, which no one could understand. He had made a break through discovery of a defective gene, but there were many cases of this same disease with a perfectly normal gene.
I became intrigued. I began to study the literature and to read text books. I guess in some way I was trying to save my friend. Pretty soon ideas were coming into my mind. And I wrote a forty-page paper to Dr. Brown. He was very impressed and thought that some of my ideas were worthy of experimental testing…So I ended up finally working as a Lab Associate researching the literature and coming up with ideas, which I love. I’m also looking at Alzheimers, Parkinsons, and other neurodegenerative diseases, and some type of cancer to see if I can see some patterns emerging.
Laurie—That’s a lot. What motivates you?
Bobbi—I want to help people. I love biology. To me everything I read fills me with a sense of wonder and admiration at this amazing creation. What is it doing here? Why all these intricate life forms? Why all these elements and atoms? Why the universe at all? That feeling of wonder and awe is pretty much always with me. I’m continually amazing by the bare fact of existence. I’ve written about this too.
I love people and I love the earth. I want to spend my life doing things that will make the world a better place both for people and for the natural ecology.
It is gratifying now to see more and more people sharing this vision, of living in harmony with each other and with the natural world.
Jan—It is tragic that the world is being deprived of you…that you and your work have been so obscured. You have so much to offer. Women should know about you.
Laurie—Everyone should know about you and about the work you’re doing.
Bobbi—Thank you. I love to think and to create, and to do that often require peacefulness and concentration.
Jan—Well thank you for your time. This has been fascinating and inspiring.
Bobbi—I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been a pleasure to meet you both.
Laurie—Thank you very much. It has been a great pleasure for us too. Let us know how thing go.
Bobbi—(Laughing) Sure. That would be great. Let’s keep in touch.