Breaking barriers: the story of the first women to run the Watford/Alvinston Road Race

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Submitted Photo Minnie Scholten Grozelle, Mary Scholten Jansen and Dinnie Scholten after running the Watford/Alvinston Road Race.

The lore behind the beginnings of the Watford/Alvinston Road Race is well known.

In 1958, six guys were playing cards and started talking about their running skills. Soon, they, along with Hylke VanderWal, would be hoofing it down Highway 79 beginning the Victoria Day tradition.

But few know the trailblazing roles of Minnie Scholten Grozelle, and her sister, Mary Scholten Jansen.

In 1971, Joe and Lambert Minten suggested Minnie should run the Watford Alvinston Road Race. It was an idea that stuck as she told people “Women have two legs and can run, too!”

Minnie enlisted her sister, Mary, and they went to Roy Caley, the organizer. Women didn’t compete in running, so he went to the Ontario Running Commission for permission, according the Jansen.

“In the 70s, it was time of women’s rights and we thought we had accomplished that sort of thing. We didn’t know it was still an issue.”

Jansen says Caley went to bat for them working the phones to get permission. While he did, Jansen and her sister practised. And that drew some looks.

“When we were running, we ran down the (Churchill) line, and a car stopped and like they look so strange at us, because yeah, women just don’t run.”

The sisters got the permission needed and went the distance. When they crested Watford’s railroad bridge, cheers greeted them. Jansen recalls organizers had to rush out to find a suitable prize since they didn’t think the sisters would finish the race. Jansen, now 73, still has the little jewelry box with the ballerina inside.

The sisters continued running the road race and were joined by their sister other sister, Dinnie. The women participated until they had children, took a break and then joined the race again, bringing them along.

The women inspired even the smallest members of the family. Jansen says one of her nephews ran the full course from Watford to Alvinston when he was only eight.

Minnie Grozelle ran the race 24 times and hoped to make it 25, however knee problems will prevent her from lacing up this weekend .

Jansen won’t run either, since her arthritis makes it difficult.

Their run was unusual in 1971 and Jansen can still surprise people with the story of the first women road racers. Organizers of the 64th annual event this weekend said in a social media post, the sisters had inspired countless other women to run the race, without needing to ask for permission.

Registration for the Watford/Alvinston Road Race begins Monday at 6 am in Watford. The race begins at 8:30 in Alvinston.

Over 300 people have already registered to run including Alvinston native and Olympian Krista DuChene.