About the Holiday
Celebrating its 32nd anniversary, National Girls and Women in Sports Day honors all of the girls and women involved in sports at all levels and highlights their extraordinary achievements. It also raises awareness of the positive influence sports can have on those who participate. This year’s theme is “Play Fair, Play IX,” providing a reminder of Title IX, which “ensures that all students receive educational opportunities free from discrimination based on sex.” While programs have expanded for female athletes since the inception of Title IX, many schools still do not provide equal opportunities for girls to participate in the sport of their choice. To learn more about National Girls and Women in Sports Day, find resources, and perhaps get involved yourself, visit ngwsd.org.
The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, the First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon
Written by Frances Poletti and Kristina Yee | Illustrated by Susanna Chapman
“Bobbi loved to run. Into the woods, over the hills, through fields and by streams, Bobbi’s feet flew across the earth.” When Bobbi was little, she and her friends ran and played together. But as they grew older, her friends found other pursuits while Bobbi still loved to run. She took to the fields with her dogs, “going higher and higher, / just her and the sound of the wind in the fire.”
When Bobbi was grown, her father took her to watch the Boston Marathon. She loved the camaraderie of “hundreds of people moving as one. Kindred spirits, all running miles together.” Immediately, she wanted to participate too. When Bobbi told her parents that she wanted to run in the marathon, however, they thought her idea was strange. They told her she would hurt herself and that it was unladylike.
But Bobbie wanted to run. She didn’t know if she could run that far but was determined to try. She trained in the woods, running “further and further, and she ached and perspired, / and the world whooshed on by, like the wind in the fire.” Because she knew her parents disapproved, Bobbi set out on her own across country to train. Every day she ran in a new place—“lush forests in Ohio and Indiana, vast plains in Nebraska and Kansas, majestic mountains in Wyoming and Montana.” She even ran with wild horses out west and up steep Rocky Mountain trails. At night she camped, “tired and happy.”
All of her training seemed for nothing, however, when Bobbi received a letter rejecting her application for the Boston Marathon. The letter said that women were incapable of running marathons, that it was against the rules for a woman to run, and that the rules had been written to protect women from injury. Bobbi was not deterred, however. She went back home and told her parents what she wanted to do. Her father thought she was crazy to attempt it.
Bobbi knew that the only way she could run would be “to blend in with the men.” Dressed in men’s shorts and a baggy hooded sweatshirt to hide her hair and wearing men’s running shoes (running shoes were not made for women), Bobbi was ready to go. Her father refused to drive her to the race, though. He stormed out of the house, and drove away. Bobbi thought her dream was dashed until her mom came to her room, car keys in hand, and said, “‘Let’s go.”
Hiding in the bushes at the starting line, she sprang out and joined the pack of runners with the bang of the starting pistol. “So she ran with the pack, going higher and higher, / the world whooshing by, like the wind in the fire.” As she ran, she realized that the men around her had seen through her disguise. Bobbi was worried, but the men were supportive. “‘Hey! Are you running the whole way?’ one asked.” She told him she hoped to, but in that sweatshirt, she was getting hotter and hotter. She was afraid that if she took it off, she’d be thrown out of the race.
The men around her said they wouldn’t let that happen, so Bobbi took off the sweatshirt. “Word spread quickly throughout the course. A girl was running! They couldn’t believe it!” All along the route, the crowd cheered and encouraged her. Hearing the roar motivated Bobbi to ignore the hard ground and her stiff shoes and face the last steep hill. “Closing her eyes, she imagined she was back in Montana running up the mountains, the soft earth under her feet.”
Her feet were blistered and she was parched with thirst, but she crossed the finish line—ahead of nearly half of the men. Photographers, reporters, and radio presenters swarmed around her to hear her history-making story. From that day on “hearts and minds were forever changed.”
The story of Bobbi Gibbs is one that every girl and boy should know, and Frances Poletti and Kristina Yee’s excellent biography will have readers awe-struck by how she changed the way the world viewed women and their capabilities. A pioneer for women’s rights in every way—from her traveling the country alone to rejecting the prevailing ideas to competing on her own terms—Bobbi Gibbs is an inspiration for achievers everywhere. Poletti and Yee’s conversational storytelling is both lyrical and honest, not stinting on the obstacles Bobbi had to overcome, including race officials, her own parents, and even the fact that running shoes weren’t made for women.
As the marathon approaches, readers will be enthralled by the building suspense. They’ll feel Bobbi’s determination, her disappointment, and her fear that she will be discovered and thrown out of the race, and will cheer along with the crowd at her victory.
Susanna Chapman’s gorgeous illustrations are infused with Bobbi’s boundless energy and spirit as she soars over grassy dunes with her dogs at her heels, zips through shady woods, and runs alongside wild horses in the shadow of the Rockies all the while trailing a red swish, representative of the fire within her. The turmoil surrounding Bobbi’s desire to run the Boston Marathon is depicted in words of rebuke, recrimination, and rejection printed in large, emphatic typefaces that swirl around her like a tornado.
The inclusion of the image of Bobbi’s mother with the car keys in hand on the morning of the race is a welcome reminder of the many unknown women of earlier generations who contributed to the fight for women’s equality. A beautiful double gate-fold illustration of Bobbi crossing the finish line to cheering crowds and the waiting media puts the focus fully on Bobbi and the fire that spurred her on.
An Afterword tells more about Bobbi Gibb, and a timeline of seminal events in the Boston Marathon from 1896 to today, is a fascinating must-read.
The Girl Who Ran is an inspirational biography and revealing history from the not-so-distant past that offers encouragement and triumph. It would be a wonderful addition to home, school, and public libraries.
I received a copy of The Girl Who Ran from Compendium to check out. All opinions are my own.
Ages 8 – 12
Compendium, 2017 | ISBN 978-1943200474
Discover more about Kristina Yee, her books, and her films on her website
Learn more about Susanna Chapman, her books, and her art on her website
Girls and Women in Sports Day Activity
Pioneering Women in Sports Word Scramble Puzzle
In every sport there have been women who have overcome barriers, incredible odds, set records, and inspired others. Using the clues and a little research, can you unscramble the names of these twelve awesome athletes?
Picture Book Review