Crossing the finish after a local 5K race, I walked beside a crowd of breathless runners.

Flushed and happy, we grabbed water and moved toward the stage for award announcements. Post-race endorphins forge friendships fast. Age doesn't matter. At 67, I'm a peer to women of all ages, due to sweat, spandex and simple joy of pushing past the finish line.

As we waited for the times and awards, a fellow runner introduced me to Kathy, a local running legend. Kathy was an Olympic qualifier for the marathon, college track coach and now, a race organizer. Full of enthusiasm at 52, she's celebrating the anniversary of Title IX, a 1972 federal mandate stating that, regardless of sex, no person shall be denied the benefits of any federally funded educational program.

I was a teacher at the time Tile IX passed mandating no more "boy's line" and "girl's line." "What a ridiculous law!" I thought when I learned that schools with boys' teams had to provide equal equipment and coaching for girls. Didn't schools have enough funding problems without adding girls' team sports?

Male legislators agreed with me and mounted legal challenges, which were defeated. So, according to an AAUW study, the next three decades saw women's involvement in high school sports rise 940% and college, 456%.

Bringing the statistics to life, Kathy told the group of runners gathered around her, "I would have been pregnant and dropped out of school if it weren't for Title IX. I was boy-crazy but my high school P.E. teacher saw me chase a soccer ball and made me show up for track and field try-outs. My life changed.

"I got into running like crazy. Running's my life. I wasn't even thinking of college but my track scholarship put me through UC Santa Barbara, and now I have a master's degree. Without Title IX I'd have 10 kids and three husbands instead of two degrees and my own business."

She laughed, loudly, and we all joined in.

Marti, a square-framed blond, with a gap between her front teeth chimed in.

"I tried to join boys' football as a freshman in high school. Coach Miller wouldn't let me play football, but in my sophomore year, girl's sports came in. Coach got me to throw the discus.

"Friendships I made on the track and field team got me through high school. After graduation, I started competitive weight lifting and today I hold a national title for 50 and over. I'm not the type to hang out and giggle. Never was. Women's sports were the only way for me."

Regarding Title IX, I see that my age does make a big difference. I was 31 when I heard about Title IX. I thought, so what?

I figured schools had enough to do without spending money on girls' sports. The most activity I got in elementary school was chasing boys and being chased (heaven). In high school, I avoided PE, exerting myself to hide from Miss Avis and her gym showers. At UCLA from 1961 to '65, I didn't know one female athlete.

Kathy and Marti got me thinking. My husband, who is the only high school graduate in his family, got through college on an athletic scholarship and now holds a law degree. Why exclude athletic women from the same chance to succeed?

A 2010 study by Betsey Stevenson, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania, found that participation in Title IX "explained 20% of the increase in women's education and about 40% of the rise in employment for 25- to 34-year-old women."

Professor Robert Kaestner of the University of Illinois found that girls' athletic "participation caused by Title IX was associated with a 7% lower risk of obesity 20 to 25 years later." He notes that even a slight drop in weight can lower diabetes and other health risks.

Back in '73, I saw no reason to make high schools and colleges support teams for females. At the race, I listened to Kathy and Marti, living examples of the research I read today. Equal treatment for women on the school athletic field doesn't just get girls out to play a sport; it contributes to their future health and job success.

Coming late to the locker room, I can tell you that running's given me a smaller behind and larger self-confidence. If I'd had the chance, I would have benefited from the sense of camaraderie and pluck gained by daring myself to race through the finish-line.

So, now I understand — that's why, Title IX

CARRIE LUGER SLAYBACK lives in Newport Beach.