Boston’s First Lady of Running is Ready for Casting|You can help her to the Finish Line!
It was only in March, 2017 that State Street Bank decided to put a statue of a defiant girl in front of the bull on Wall Street to draw attention to the small number of women who are represented on corporate boards. But in 1964 an anxious young woman, eager to follow her instincts to “run” as an equal decided to run the Boston Marathon when no woman had ever done so.
At the time, she didn’t know any of the official mechanics of this race, she just wanted to join the mass of humanity she had witnessed when she visited her first Boston Marathon with her father. She was just an exceptional, natural athlete and had run since she was a little girl and as she says, “I just never stopped running.” That girl is Bobbi (Roberta) Gibb.
Fast forward to February 2016. A small group of Bobbi’s friends and supporters (not necessarily runners) decided to take a trip to Hopkinton, MA to understand more about the history of this great race and how we might celebrate Bobbi’s historic run in 1966. Our goal was to commission Bobbi, herself a talented artist/sculptor, to create a statue in honor of women runners of all generations. Bobbi had whispered in my ear several years before that she had hoped her series of athletic figurines would eventually become life-size statues but feared it might not happen in her lifetime. As we walked around Hopkinton and witnessed the existing public art, it became imminently clear, the time was NOW. The BAA was about to commemorate Bobbi’s historic runs (’66, ’67, ’68) and a 3 year celebration of “50 years of women’s running” but there was no statue of any female running greats to be found. There were indeed deserving statues…..but none of women.
We discussed our idea with Bobbi and her immediate reaction was “I would love to do a statue of Joan Benoit-Samuelson” to mark this occasion. A typical, selfless reaction from Bobbi. So with this set of orders we approached Joan. Her response was that the statue must be built, but not of her (Joan) but of Bobbi. So our mission began……
For me, this was not about running, it was about history, it is about athletics and their place in society as an antidote for social norms of the times, in this case, the need for change. It was about how much we don’t know about what these women have done for our generation and the next and the next. As I walked around the 2016 and 2017 Marathon and conducted my own “on the street” interviews and met runners at various events, it was obvious I was not alone. Few below the age of 60 really understood the meaning of the BAA’s shift from the “unsanctioned years” of women’s running to calling them the “Women Pioneers.” This alone made our project more important than ever.
Bobbi’s feats were happening when I was born. As 50 “something” year old, I encountered a much more accepting work-place and never was turned away from a sport. Bobbi explains her place in history as the first clearing of a path and that each of the women that followed her opened the path until it became a road and then a highway. Our youngest generation are running on this highway, but may not be privy to what it took to bushwhack through the forest.
To my mind this is the essence of Bobbi Gibb. Today’s female marathoners cannot fathom a day and age when women didn’t run, road races featured no women’s divisions, and jog bras didn’t exist. They are completely unaware that Bobbi blew everyone’s minds in 1966. And that is not hyperbole. High schools at that time had no girls’ cross country or track teams. The longest Olympic event for women was a mere 800m — 2 laps around the track. And Wellesley College —a women’s school— didn’t even offer cross country until 1985!!!
For me, it was a different story. I am not a runner, so as the project co-lead for this initiative, I had to do a running deep-dive. My own journey began with the running Bible, Tom Derderian’ s history of the Boston Marathon and seed for Boston, The Film. In 2016, Amby Burfoot, the beloved writer and Marathon great released his book, “First Ladies of Running” Then I was privileged to accompany Bobbi for her honors at the 2016 and 2017 Boston Marathon where all of these “First Ladies” were invited to share their oral histories of how and why they ran. Most of them had to fight for their place on the Marathon course. I was overwhelmed with what I learned.
For this reason, we must commemorate this incredible achievement. So we have asked Bobbi to perform the ultimate feat, to create the image of herself running in 1966 – to relive the day with all its fear, energy, pain, euphoria, and amazement by all – to cast her own legacy, literally. As this is being written, Bobbi has completed the life-size statue in its pre-casting “clay” version. Effectively, she has created a permanent recognition of her fellow First Ladies for the women of today and all future generations. But we are not quite over the finish line as we have used our funds to get us to this important point in the sculpture creation process. To get there, we need help from everyone – man, woman, runner, non-runner, athletes of all kinds to step up and be part of the project by making a donation to see this through in time for Bobbi’s upcoming 3rd anniversary of her 3 years of winning 1966, 67, and 68. From $26.2 to becoming a major sponsor, we welcome your support and engagement. Click here to donate.