On April 19th, 2011, the day after my girls ran the Boston Marathon, one of my favorite running heroes, Grete Waitz, passed away from cancer at only 57 years old. Waitz embodies a true champion, a winner with class, humility and grace.
I love the story of the first time Grete Waitz ran (and won) the New York City Marathon in 1978. As Norwegians, her husband, who was also her running coach, convinced Grete that a trip to New York would be like a second honeymoon for them. At that point, Grete had never run more than 13 miles. So, the last miles of the marathon were so difficult that when she crossed the finish line (in first place), Grete tore off her shoes and threw them at her husband yelling that she’d never do that again. And then, of course, won the race 8 more times!
Joan Benoit Samuelson, another one of my running heroes, said in tribute to Grete’s passing: “What will endure forever is that Grete was able to balance a competive career with the most gracious lifestyle, and a character that emanated good will.”
Before Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York City Marathon, died of brain cancer in 1994, he said this about his dear friend, Grete Waitz: “I always say she’s the queen of the road, but she doesn’t behave like a monarch.”
Although she was intensely private by nature, Grete Waitz was always approachable and even funny in interviews. But when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2005, Waitz never wanted to talk about the disease and refused to reveal what type of cancer she had. She claimed she would disclose more information on the day she beat it. Which never happened. Someday I would love to run the New York City Marathon. And if I ever do, I’m sure I’d be thinking a lot about Grete Waitz and her legacy along the way!
“For every finish-line tape a runner breaks - - complete with the cheers of the crowd and clicking of hundreds of cameras - - there are the hours of hard and often lonely work that rarely gets talked about.” -Grete Waitz