BOBBI GIBB WAS JUS T DAYS OFF A PLANE from her native Boston when she began running long distances throughout San Diego. Though far from the wooded forest
trails of her youth in Massachusetts, San Diego County offered ample space for the future philosophy major to think; it was her means of physical meditation,
letting her mind ponder the mysteries of the universe.
As she settled into San Diego life, she routinely ran 30
miles in a day, around Balboa Park, Coronado, Imperial Beach—even accidentally wandering into Mexico.
In 1966, this was not exactly typical of a 23-year-
old Navy wife, but Gibb was a woman well ahead of
“Back then a woman was put straight into a box—
you could be a wife, a mother and a homemaker, but
that was it,” says Gibb. “I had no problem with getting
married and having kids… but I had no intention of
being a homemaker.”
A female runner was a definite anomaly in those
days. Lacking true equipment, Gibb ran for miles in
nurse’s shoes, a one-piece swimsuit and a pair of old
shorts. One day on a run from her cottage near Balboa
Park up through La Jolla, Gibb passed Scripps Insti-
tution of Oceanography, running her hardest up the
cliffs only to find the summit being carved by huge yel-
low earth movers. This was the beginning of Revelle
College, and this first sight of UC San Diego spoke to
“I need to learn more,” Gibb recalls thinking in her
2011 memoir, Wind in the Fire. “I need to go back to
school and to learn everything I can about biology,
physics, matter and mind and philosophy… I have
been a solitary thinker and now I want to know what
other people have thought about these matters. As I
look around in amazement at all this activity, I’m filled
with the powerful sense that this is where I belong…
this is where I’m supposed to go to college.”
Still sweaty from running, she walked into the
admissions office—one of the few buildings then
constructed—and signed up for classes that fall.
It was not the first time Gibb had witnessed some-
thing and felt a calling to become a part of it. Years
prior, while on one of her regular runs through the
woods outside Boston, Gibb recalls catching sight of
a throng of runners treading down the street together,
united in the effort she would later learn was the Bos-
“These are my people!” she thought. “Finally, other
running adults. I can do this!” Just as committed as
she was to join UC San Diego, she resolved then to run
the Boston Marathon someday. It didn’t occur to her,
however, that it was only men she’d seen running.
At home in La Jolla, with an academic career on
the horizon, Gibb made plans to achieve this personal
milestone before embarking on her educational one.
She wrote a letter to the Boston Athletic Association
requesting an application. Yet when their response
arrived back, the message was devastating:
We have received your request for an application for
the Boston Marathon and regret that we will not be
able to send you an application. Women are not physiologically capable to run 26. 2 miles and we would not
want to take on the medical liability. Furthermore, the
rules of International Sport and the Amateur Athletic
Union do not allow women to run more than the sanctioned one and a half miles. Sorry we could not be of
Gibb was outraged. She was infuriated. She was
anything but daunted. Though she had always thought
of the race as a challenge for herself, it was now something far bigger. She resolved to make a statement. She
had to prove them wrong.
So when the week of the marathon arrived, she got
on a cross-country bus headed back to Boston.
By Heather Buschman, Ph.D. ’08
How Bobbi Gibb, Revelle ’69, broke
the Boston Marathon’s gender barrier.