New York Mini hasn't lost a step

More than 6,000 women celebrated the 40th annual New York "Mini" 10K. Courtesy of NYRR

NEW YORK -- Saturday in Central Park, not unlike 40 years ago when the first Crazylegs Mini Marathon was held on June 3, 1972, history was made.

Three competitors from the original women-only road race returned to help thousands of other women celebrate how far the sport -- and women's athletics -- has come.

And though race winner Edna Kiplagat made her mark, this story is about all the women who come back because this event means everything to them.

The mood at the start of the 40th anniversary NYRR New York Mini 10K was celebratory. Running skirts and pink shirts filled the corrals. There were eight Olympians, seven runners with 10K times of less than 32:30, and more than 6,000 women from 11 countries in attendance. There also were first-timers, recreational walkers, soon-to-be mothers and multi-generational teams of runners.

Among the masses were women's running legends Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to finish the Boston Marathon, in 1967, and Nina Kuscsik, who won the first official women's Boston Marathon in 1972. They were the original Mini co-founders. Back then, the miniskirt was a symbol of womanhood. Looking around at all of the homemade team shirts with messages like "yes we can" and "run like a girl," you have to wonder if the sentiment is still the same. We are women. We are here to support one another. We can do anything.

On its 40th anniversary, the Mini inspired many women to consider how much has changed since 1972. Back then, Title IX was three weeks away from being pass as law. Jacqueline Dixon, who won the inaugural Mini at age 17, came back to cheer. Though she didn't compete Saturday, she encouraged many of the women who did. One of her biggest fans, her 8-year-old granddaughter, Tali, ran her first 10K Saturday with her mother, Linese.

Also running as a team were Julianne Grace, 74, Deirdre Beck, 50, and Julianne Beck, 17, who have finished a combined 74 Minis.

"I am reminded of how significant this rite of passage has been," Grace said. "What brings us from our Connecticut homes every year is the history of the event and the contagious 'you can do it' spirit."

Today's race was held on an even playing field. Women like Carmen Rosa, 53, of Manhattan came out to tackle their first-ever race. Rosa trained using a walk-run technique that is common for beginners. Inspired by a co-worker who taught her to eat right and exercise, Rosa decided the Mini was the perfect race to get started. Since Rosa is battling a thyroid disorder and diabetes runs in her family, she decided it was time to get in shape and inspire her 11-year-old daughter, Serena.

Rachel Nobel Fields, 29, is due to have her first child Aug. 12. She and her husband have always run together. This Mini is the second one on Fields' birthday.

"I can't think of a better way of celebrating than sharing my birthday run with thousands of other women," she said. "It's been extremely gratifying to be able to keep running throughout my pregnancy."

Fran Kotkov, 61, said she has been looking forward to this day for months. She and her daughter, Gabrielle, have been training online together across continents. Kotkov ran the Mini back in the 1980s, but fell out of the running habit. Inspired by Gabrielle's half-marathon training, Kotkov decided to get on the roads again. This Thursday she returned from visiting her daughter in Sicily, but she never considered missing the race.

"I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2002 and went through surgery and radiation treatment, which ended in July of 2002," Kotkov said. "I am celebrating the 10th anniversary of successful treatment a month early. It's an exciting landmark."

Out there Saturday were also more than 100 women who flew in from Sweden. Some arrived as early as Monday to train together in Central Park each morning and to enjoy the shopping. A Swedish contingent has been coming to the Mini through the travel agency for more than a decade and to the New York City Marathon since 1986. Linda Ljungblom, who leads the group rom Springtime Travel, has directed their travel as well as led them on the races.

At the finish, Dixon was amazed to see so many women.

"They're all doing something I love, and doing it freely," she said.

Dixon, Switzer, who ran in 58:28, and Kuscsik, who walked in 1:21:53, took a moment to look around and reflect upon what they had inspired 40 years ago. Sweaty runners couldn't resist coming over to thank them and take a photo.

A special ceremony was held after the race to recognize all three pioneers, plus other women who had completed 20 or more Minis. A few had done more than 30, and no one talked about ending their streak.

Rachel Cooperman will never be as fast as the athletes she covers, but she's happy to write about them, run alongside them, and sometimes sprint to catch up to them for a good story. She's a freelance journalist in New York City.