I grew up on a small farm in Connecticut in the 1940s and 50s. I was an only girl with four brothers. If they were clearing the pond for hockey, I'd scrape snow off the ice and jump in the game. Once I was 12, I helped bail boats out during hurricanes. I got drafted into all sorts of things. I loved being a part of everything — as long as it was outdoors.
I think I was the only kid who liked missing the school bus. It meant I could run the mile and a half through back fields and along the salt marsh to get there. It was a giddy feeling of freedom. From the time I was five I loved to run. I was flying.
My dad's stories about the Boston marathon were my favorites. He'd tell me about John Kelley, a local teacher who ran the 26-miler every fall and was making a name for himself. I started going up to the golf course to watch Kelley whiz by on his daily run. I'd wave and call out: "Hi, Mr. Kelley!" He'd smile. I plastered my bedroom wall with newspaper photos of Kelley. In 1957 he won the Boston Marathon.
One day I worked up the courage to ask Mr. Kelley if I could run with him. He said better yet I should run with his trainer George Terry. George agreed and we started training together. George gave me tips to build strength and speed and urged me to compete in the New England Championship — a half mile race for girls in Needham, Mass. I had never run in an official race and never even thought about competing. The race was only a month away, so I threw myself into training.
On the morning of the race I showed up in tennis shoes and my brother's shabby shorts. I was so nervous I couldn't stop shaking. When the gun went off, I took off like a scared rabbit. I can still hear George shouting: "Slow down! Slow down!" I just focused on the race. I won and broke the track record. The drive to compete was in my blood.
You rarely heard about women runners in those days. Women weren't allowed to compete in events with men. And they weren't allowed to enter races longer than 880 yards. If a woman ran too much her uterus would fall out. That was the thinking. You never heard of an actual case, but it was just in the air.
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Julia Chase-Brand rocked the boat in 1961 when she ran the previously all-male Manchester Road Race, challenging the status quo and advancing long-distance running for women in the United States. On that day, Chase-Brand couldn't have imagined that, eleven years later, a law called Title IX would prohibit sex discrimination in education — and change the face of women's sports forever.
On Thanksgiving Day 2011, Chase-Brand put on her college running tunic and competed once again in Manchester — 50 years after her historic run. This time — thanks to Title IX — Chase-Brand was one of hundreds of women running the 4.75 mile race.