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2022 boston marathon

50 years after first running the Boston Marathon, women are running much of the BAA office now

From left, Mary Kate Shea, the BAA director of professional athletes and technical support; Lauren Proshan, director of operations; and Nicole Juri, director of development.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

In the half-century since women have been allowed to participate in the Boston Marathon, the field has grown from a mere eight in 1972 to the 14,000-plus who will run Monday.

That growth rate alone is reason enough to celebrate the golden anniversary of women running the race.

Another is that when it comes to the Boston Athletic Association, women are pretty much running the show.

With women holding seven of the 10 senior leadership positions and 20 of 35 full-time staff jobs, the gender balance of the BAA workforce is tilted in favor of them. For an organization founded in 1887 with a mandate “to encourage manly sports” and with a race director 56 years ago who felt women were not physiologically capable of running 26.2 miles, the women’s influence is as welcome as it is timely.


“When you look at the BAA today, it’s really powerful,” said Nicole Juri, the BAA’s director of development. “Fifty years ago, no women participated in the event, and now we have a leadership team that’s made up of a lot of women.

“It’s important to have a great diversity of leaders. I’m a woman, so it’s very easy for me to think it’s fantastic to have women leaders in the organization. I think the women leaders here have brought new perspectives, new experiences, and really helped the BAA to expand the breadth of its work.”

The logistics, resources, and institutional memory required to pull off and market the annual Boston Marathon plus an array of auxiliary events is no small matter for the BAA, and the role played by women is an outsized one. They oversee operations, recruiting the professional field and the entire portfolio of sponsors, and handling registration and other race-specific processes, volunteers, communications, finance, and administration.


Paving the way for the current BAA female leadership core were a trio of women: Marja Bakker, the first female member of the BAA’s board of governors in 1984; Joann Flaminio, the first female president of the BAA in 2011; and Gloria Ratti, the heart and soul of the organization who filled an array of roles from the 1960s until her death last July.

Thomas Grilk, the BAA CEO, is stepping down at the end of the month, with Jack Fleming, COO, taking over as acting CEO until a successor is hired.

Overseeing all of the race logistics is Lauren Proshan, director of operations, a role created in 2014 in the wake of the 2013 bombings. No longer outsourced, the responsibility and control of every facet of the race is handled internally by the BAA.

Over eight years, Proshan has seen the organization move toward equity in how it is run.

“We’re looking at diversifying not only how we talk to each other but in the chains of command — who’s making those decisions at the top,” said Proshan. “Of course, we want well-seasoned professionals in those seats, but those well-seasoned professionals are starting to look very different, which is great. There’s more women at that table.”

Along the course, nearly half of the 30,000-strong field will be women. That’s a far cry from 1966, when Bobbi Gibb, after being told of her physiological deficiency, sneaked on to the starting line anyway to become the first woman in the race. A year later, Kathrine Switzer, entered as “K.V. Switzer,” was temporarily stopped on the route by outraged race manager Jock Semple before resuming her journey.


The infamous moment in 1967 when the BAA's Jock Semple tried to force Kathrine Switzer off the course. Semple is behind Switzer, being fended off by friends of hers.Paul Connell

Five years later, when the AAU approved female marathoners, the BAA allowed that first eight-member field of women.

Mary Kate Shea, the BAA’s director of professional athletes and technical support, oversees the recruitment and handling of the professional field — men, women, wheelchairs, and para athletes. This year’s field is arguably the fastest ever, featuring a dozen men who have raced under 2:06 and a dozen women under 2:23.

Assembling them from around the globe is no minor matter for Shea, who relishes the opportunity for the sports spotlight to shine on the female competitors.

“Just to highlight how amazing they are as athletes while they’re juggling things like family, pregnancy, work — you know, we have a number of accomplished women who are mothers who are full-time employees, whether it’s the military or schools or hospitals, it runs the gamut of what the women in the field do,” said Shea. “They’re pretty much doing it all.”

She detects a commendable distinction in the female runners.

“They’re just so approachable, professional, encouraging, and collaborative,” said Shea. “They share it, and I think that’s something that women do very well. They collaborate very well; there’s no ownership there. They want everyone else to succeed.”


Whether it’s women helping women reach the Boylston Street finish line or shatter the glass ceiling that traditionally has hovered over C-suites, shining a light on these prominent roles at the BAA comes at a time when women’s sports appear to be taking important strides toward equity with men’s sports.

High-visibility efforts for pay equity for the US women’s soccer team, improved corporate sponsorship in basketball and hockey, and high rates of engagement from fans are trending in a positive direction.

“It’s becoming more equal,” said Proshan. “It’s starting to become more of a commonplace conversation to include women’s sports in the same conversation as men’s sports — high time, it’s about time.”

Fifty years since the starting gun for the women’s field was heard in Hopkinton, its echo is still being heard, loud and clear.

“I think that here at the BAA and in the sports industry as a whole, women are really having a moment,” said Juri. “And that’s a great thing.”

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Michael Silverman can be reached at michael.silverman@globe.com.