BOSTON (AP) — Some of the biggest names in Boston Marathon history are backing an effort to put up a statue honoring the first woman to complete the race — an accomplished sculptor who has been commissioned to create the piece.
The 120th marathon next week marks the 50th anniversary of Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb’s pioneering run in 1966, when women were not even allowed to register. She hid in the bushes at the starting line in her brother’s Bermuda shorts, pulled her hood up to hide her ponytail, and jumped into the all-male pack of runners.
Those who know her say Gibb, now in her 70s, is modest and has never tried to exploit her groundbreaking run for personal gain. She admits she’s a little uncomfortable creating a statue of herself, but she’s doing it to honor the tens of thousands of women who have followed her footsteps.
“I’m really embarrassed doing a sculpture of myself, so I would prefer to do a generic woman, maybe with the names of the first 50 women’s winners,” Gibb, who studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School and still runs almost every day, said from her studio north of Boston.
The effort is being spearheaded by the nonprofit 26.2 Foundation led by former marathon race director Tim Kilduff. The foundation has commissioned three other marathon statues, most recently the sculpture of Dick and Rick Hoyt.
“Bobbi’s not only Boston’s first woman runner, but she is a spectacular sculptor, which makes this an absolutely unique project,” he said. “It’s about time we honored her and those women who followed.”
The foundation hopes to raise between $125,000 and $150,000 for the life-size statue and erect it along the route before the 2017 race.
A virtual who’s who of former marathon champions have agreed to serve on the statue advisory committee, led by 1968 victor Amby Burfoot.
“Universally, they all signed on without hesitation,” Burfoot said.
They include Sara Mae Berman, who like Gibb won three times before women were allowed to officially enter; Nina Kuscsik, the first woman to “officially” win the race in 1972; two-time winner Joan Benoit Samuelson; four-time champion Bill Rodgers and 2014 winner Meb Keflezighi.
“Anything to honor Bobbi is long overdue,” Benoit Samuelson said. “She inspired me and she continues to inspire with her love of the sport. She still exudes the passion she had 50 years ago.”
Gibb, then 23, submitted an application to run in 1966, but was told she couldn’t because women were physiologically incapable of running long distances.
“I had this sinking, horrible, trapped feeling,” she said of the rejection.
She decided she needed to make a point and run anyway.
She thought she’d get kicked off the course, maybe even arrested. But something remarkable happened. The men protected her. They told her it was a public road and anyone had the right to run. They told her they wanted their wives or girlfriends to get involved in running.
The Boston Athletic Association, which runs the marathon, endorses the statue project, although it’s not directly involved, executive director Thomas Grilk said.
Grilk, who has been involved with the BAA since 1979, said it took the organization a long time to fully embrace Gibb.
“I think by the ’70s, whatever attitudes that once existed about women runners had long since gone, but it really wasn’t until the 100th anniversary of the marathon in 1996 that she and Sara Mae Berman were really recognized as pioneers and received their finisher’s medals,” he said.
Since Gibb’s singular act of defiance in 1966, 164,000 women have run Boston, with about 14,000 more scheduled to run next Monday.
“Without her courage and determination, we might never have gained the chance,” Benoit Samuelson said.
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