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Gender equality celebrated at 50th anniversary of first women-only road race, Title IX

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(NEW YORK) -- Around the bends and over the hills of New York City’s Central Park, the world’s original women-only road race will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Saturday, just weeks before Title IX marks the same milestone.

The now-called-Mastercard New York Mini 10K first took place in 1972, just three weeks before the signing of the landmark Title IX law, which guaranteed women the right to participate equally in school sports.

Kathrine Switzer, who was attacked by the director of the 1967 Boston Marathon as she was running the race because she is a woman, says the Mini 10K is one of many vital steps toward gender equality in sports.

“The women [who created the race] knew that we were stepping into history because we were creating our own space,” Switzer told ABC News in an interview.

However, Switzer is a running icon of her own. She recalled the attack that made her famous, when the marathon race director ripped the running bib off of her back and tried to stop her from running.

She says that though many think the attack itself was the defining moment for her, it was instead the moment “when I turned to my coach, and I said, ‘I'm going to finish this race on my hands on my knees if I have to.’”

She was the first woman to officially run the marathon -- and she set the stage for women across the country and world. Now, she remains inspired by the women running the Mini 10k, taking up space in a sport that wasn’t always welcoming.

“We have come so far since the official tried to throw me out of the Boston Marathon and rip off those famous 261 bib numbers,” Switzer said, who now runs a global network of female runners called 261 Fearless. “Now we have, in the United States, 58% of all participating runners are women. So, the fact that this one official was so wrong, just proved us right.”

Some other running icons will be at the event, including Patricia Barrett. She is one of the “Six Who Sat” at the 1972 New York City Marathon.

Women were forced to start the race before or after the male marathon runners. When the gun went off to start the women’s race, Barrett and five others sat down at the starting line, waiting for the start of the men’s race to begin running.

“I was looking at the ground and I was trying not to laugh. I was smirking because I'm thinking, ‘this is so insane. We have to go through this just to run,” Barrett told ABC News. “The men behind us looked like they were laughing too, because it's so insane.”

Without icons like Switzer and Barrett, the momentum to get gender equality enshrined into law with Title IX may not have come to fruition as soon as it did.

“It opens the door for a lot of different opportunities for women,” Barrett, who has run the 10k herself, said. “At any level, -- grammar school, high school, college, after college -- it gives us a chance to participate in things that your grandmother's couldn't do.”

Sara Hall, the reigning, two-time New York Mini 10K champion, will also be at the event and is aiming for her third win.

As a mother of two, who looks up to the women who came before her, Title IX and races like the Mini 10K represent the future of gender equality in sports.

“There are all these women just excited to be together, running together,” Hall said, describing the race as a “festival” with an undulating energy.

So when New York Road Runner sends hundreds of women off to the races on Saturday morning, they’ll be running on a course riddled with history and activism in the ongoing fight for gender equality.

“You talk to any woman about how important running is to her, and she'll probably tear up, because she knows she has this magic weapon, this victory under her belt every day that nobody can take away from her,” Switzer said.

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