EDITORS NOTE: Like many female runners in the 1970s, Hanahan native Sallie Driggers faced sexist attitudes about running. Despite that and being a mother of three young children, she remains the only local to win the female division of the Cooper River Bridge Run.
Q: Take us back to the late 1970s and early 1980s. What were some of the common misconceptions of women running and how did people react to you, a married mother of three young children, running and training to race?
A: I recall as an 8-year-old feeling a kind of freedom when I ran. Most of my childhood friends were boys, and I always could run just as hard and fast as any of them.
Then when I was in the ninth grade I asked the Hanahan track coach if I could run track. She said girls were not made to run distance. Once around the track was the girls’ longest race, a 440 (yards). It wasn’t until the 1970’s, after I had two boys, that I tried running four miles. It brought balance to my life.
I ran about five times a week and continued to run until about a month before my daughter, Ramey, was born in April 1977. That was about the time when running and road racing started in the Charleston area.
My brother, who lived in Washington, D.C., would tell me about races he would run on the weekends. He encouraged me to race in Charleston. He said, “The next time you come to D.C., we can get you some “real” running shoes from a running store here.
I had run in the Turkey Day races in high school, but running with a group of adults seemed like it would be fun. My first road race was in 1978, a 5K Epilepsy Race around the Battery area. I came in fourth. I was hooked, and knew I could do better.
Q: You didn’t do your first Bridge Run until 1980, but you ran the 5K Epilepsy race in Charleston in spring of 1978. Was there a reason you didn’t participate in those first two races?
A: The first two bridge runs in 1978 and 1979 were not in my thoughts. I was very busy with family activities. We had three very young children in 1978, Tad was 5, Jacob 3, and Ramey 1.
I read about the planned race over the closed bridge, and it seemed too much effort to get our family taken care of and race. But I can still recall reading about the 1978 and 1979 Bridge Runs in the paper and thinking, "I need to do this run."
So in 1980, the third race, (husband) Larry and I agreed we would get a plan so I could run the Cooper River Bridge race.
Q: In 1982, did you think you had a chance to win the overall female division, and how did you feel after you did?
A: Yes, by 1982 I believed I could be the first female finisher. As a matter of fact, after finishing third in 1981 with a time of 38:52, Larry and I made it a goal that we would work toward winning the Bridge Run.
By this time, I knew that God had given me a very special ability after breaking the Georgia state record for the half-marathon in one hour and 18 minutes. I trained very hard for the next 12 months.
As a family, myself, Larry, and our three children, we began to enter and run every Saturday race I could get to. Some races Larry would ride a bike with four-year-old Ramey on the back in a child seat, so I would know mile splits. I spent the year training daily. I read a lot about running and getting stronger.
It was also about this time that other runners in the Charleston area saw that my times were getting better and better. Many friends, both male and female, who were runners, would keep me updated on races and winning times.
It was about this time that we became friends with Marc Embler, a great local runner who also won the Bridge Run. Marc would encourage me before the start of many of the Saturday 10K runs.
For the next year, I won the female division of every race, about 16, I entered. As the 1982 bridge run approached, I had gotten my 10K time down to a best of 35 minutes and 44 seconds. I was determined to run with the men and not let another lady pass me. I finished first for the females, with a time of 37:21.
I don’t remember seeing another lady after the first half mile and as I was nearing the finish line I was able to pass several male runners. I still feel the joy that God gave me as the finish line came closer and closer.
Q: When was the last time you ran the Bridge Run, and what do your regular activities consist of?
The last time I ran the Bridge Run was in 2011. After many years of not racing because of some injuries, I started running the bridge again in about 2004. My son Tad always wanted me do the bridge run because he did it every year, so finally in 2004 I agreed to run for him.
Tad ran and volunteered to help with the race for many years. My son, Jacob, and his wife, Isabel, have run and placed in the bridge run many times. They have become very good at doing triathlons. In 2011, I agreed to run with two of my grandchildren. Willa Schutz was 10 and Abbott Schutz was 7. We trained for almost a year and I told them I would give them each $100 if they completed the run. Willa and Abbott finished the race and now I know I have passed my running “genes” along to them. Now I walk and bike to stay fit. I also direct a large pre-school choir at Highland Park Baptist Church.
Q: Today, what is it like to see the numbers of women and girls running, and do you think many realize how much has changed in the last 40 years?
A: It is exciting to see young girls and young women enjoy running today.
As I stated earlier, when I was at Hanahan High in the late 1960’s, girls were not encouraged to run distances. There were no “running shoes,” just the regular tennis shoe for other sports. When I started running 5Ks and 10Ks, my husband had to give me splits just so I would know how I was doing. There were no books about running or sports medicine. “Runner’s World Magazine” was good but only gave basic race times and results for the biggest races in the Northern states. It had very few articles, some black-and-white pictures, and all the runners wore what would look like “funny clothes” today.
I could go on about what has changed, but I think what is more important is that the change has led to great improvement. Now thousands of people of all ages are running for their health and the fun of it.