Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Grete Waitz, NY's Leading Lady

Grete chats with the NYRR Young Runners before the Run with Champions 2008

Nine times she won the NYC Marathon, setting the world record for women 4 times, Grete Waitz really is New York's leading lady. The running world lost a marathon great yesterday and news about her death spread through the running community quickly, everyone expressing real sadness at the loss of such an inspiring woman. As a child born in the 80's, I was too young to remember the way Grete changed the sport for women, showing us that we could really do ANYTHING, but I know that I have her to thank for the running world we live in today.

The two articles in today's New York Times about Grete are really beautiful and capture her spirit well. Not only did Grete win the race 9 times on her own, but she always claimed that her run with Fred Lebow in 1992, when he was dying of brain cancer, was her 10th victory. I can't say it nearly as well as Lix Robbins, Bruce Weber and George Vecsey can, so please check out the articles here: Scandinavian Cool That Warmed New York and In Marathon and Beyond, a Graceful Champion I recommend having tissues nearby.

I had the great pleasure to meet Grete twice in my time here in NYC, and I can still remember the way my palms got sweaty and I became speechless at the thought of meeting a hero of mine. I consider myself lucky just to have been in her presence, not to mention seeing her interact with the kids I coached at an elementary school in the city. The first time I saw Grete in person was at the NYRR Run with Champions which happens every year a few days before the marathon. It is a big day in Central Park where all of the Young Runners teams gather and have a few races, eat lunch and then get to hear some marathon greats give their running advice. In 2008, the first year I ran NYCM, Grete was part of the panel of speakers along with some other amazing current marathoners. In her cool Norwegian accent, she told the kids to follow their dreams and work hard for what they wanted in life. I'm sure she told them other things too, but I was too starstruck to remember. The photos in this post are from that event. I remember explaining to some of the young girls on the team exactly who Grete Waitz was, and hopefully some of the awe in my voice conveyed just how important she was to opening up the world of running to them. I know they were impressed when they heard how many times she'd won the marathon, but then again who isn't?

I cannot for the life of me remember the details of where my second encounter with Grete took place, but I distinctly remember her wearing a rose colored fleece jacket and me standing behind her going "oh my god, it's Grete Waitz!!" I am almost certain that someone took a photo of the two of us, but I can't find it anywhere. It may have been at the marathon expo in 2008, it may have been at an end of year event for the coaches and staff of the NYRR Youth Programs, I simply cannot remember anything but her serene presence and the grace with which she greeted all of her many fans, myself included. I know I babbled something about running the marathon and running and her being an inspiration. It was truly an honor just to be in the same room with her.

What a woman. As Fred Lebow used to call her, she was "The Queen of the Road" and she will truly be missed. Thank you Grete for all you did for us girls.

For other great blog posts abour Grete, check out Races Like a Girl's post.