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The NYC Marathon’s Original Badass

Nina Kuscsik fought for women’s rights to race in the early 1970s—and won two consecutive NYC Marathons.

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Nina Kuscsik Is A NYC Marathon Legend

On September 13, 1970, Nina Kuscsik toed the line of the inaugural New York City Marathon. The young mom had started running in the 1960s and unofficially competed in the Boston Marathon the prior year. The NYC Marathon however, boasted only 127 runners in total. There was little chance she could hide the fact she was a woman.

So, Kuscsik just ran. And though she didn’t finish the race—her run was impacted by the cold weather and a lingering illness—she went on to place second the following year. But Kuscsik wasn’t oblivious to the inequality that existed. In a 2013 interview with Gary Cohen, Kuscsik recalled a protest she participated in during the 1972 New York City Marathon.

“The [Amateur Athletic Union] AAU rules said we had to have a separate start, so [the race director] Fred Lebow had the idea of a sit-down strike,” Kuscsik told Cohen. “Mr. Halpern, the Director of Parks, agreed and he gave a little talk about it. We had posters and Fred called the media and got a lot of media attention.”

She didn’t stop there. Amid a whirlwind year that included seven marathons, Kuscsik continued to fight for the rights of female runners. Women’s distance running had come a long way since the historic feats of Katherine Switzer in 1967. But if they wanted to run a marathon, AAU rules said they must start at a different time or place than the men.

In 1971, Kuscsik applied to change that rule, but the AAU only granted privileges to some female runners. That prompted Kuscsik to participate in the sit-down protest during the 1972 NYC Marathon, sue the AAU for discrimination, and ultimately: enact change.

According to New York Road Runners, Kuscsik was also “part of the team that petitioned the IAAF to include a women’s marathon in the Olympic Games.” She even became the AAU Chair for women’s long-distance running—representing millions of female runners for whom she had helped pave the way.

In 2012, Kuscsik was inducted into the New York Road Runners Hall of Fame. While her 2:50:22 marathon PR and American world record in the 50-mile are impressive, it’s Kuscsik’s dedication to female runner’s rights that she is most honored for.

Whether you’re running this year’s TCS New York City Marathon or avidly watching from the couch, make no mistake: Female runners have fought for more than just personal records; they have fought for the ability to simply stand on the start line. As you eye your next race—in New York or elsewhere—don’t forget about the now-79-year-old woman who managed to raise three kids, run 80 marathons and inspire runners across the globe. Nina Kuscsik is nothing short of inspirational.


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