Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Grete: The Greatest

Dear Grete,
We miss you, already. You were, and always will be, the epitome of grace, power, humility, focus, and gentle friendliness - the ideal runner. You represent what we all should strive to be as runners, and as human beings.
With Love,
From everyone who has ever run, will ever run, or has even hoped to run.

I "ran into" Grete Waitz three times in my life. Each time it was during an early morning run in Central Park, usually near the lower loop, and on the Bridle Path. Let's be honest: I'm a nobody, and Grete Waitz is arguably greatest runner of all time, male or female. Thus, she would have no reason to notice me, give me the time of day, or (honestly) to treat me as anything but an annoyance - some rabid fan, or worse yet some creepy stalker. Nonetheless, each time she smiled widely and said, "Good morning". We were just fellow runners, simple as that. I wonder how many others got the same friendly greeting. My guess: everyone she saw.

The time I remember most was after she had run the NYC Marathon alongside Fred Lebow, who was in the final stages of his own heroic battle with cancer. Fred finally got to run his beloved race, but every mile was painfully slow. Grete stayed by his side for every step, offering encouragement, smiling. I saw her in the park shortly after, running easily. I caught up to her, and we exchanged hellos. I'm sure she had no memory of me from other times. I asked her about the marathon, she said that she had never been in so much discomfort during a run - after over 5 hours of slow jogging, her legs were cramping up and she was struggling to finish herself (by the way, look at any photograph or video of that race, and you can't tell that she was in pain). She said all of this with a chuckle, and then said that she had new-found respect for the people who were not winning marathons, but were out there for 2 or 3 more hours, just getting one foot in front of the other, just keeping at it until they finished. She said that those people were the real heroes, not her. Amazing. She started asking me about my running - but really what could I talk about - my latest set of tempo intervals? Would have been far too egotistical. I just told her that I loved running, whatever my speed or fitness, and hoped I could continue forever, or at least as long as I could. She laughed and nodded. We ran together in silence for about a minute, then I told her that I had to turn back home. She actually thanked me for running with her, which was absurd of course because it was I who had the privilege and the honor of running with her ... but just tells you what a fantastic person she really was.

In more-recent years, I'd see her from afar. Perhaps at the start/finish of her namesake race put on by NYRR. Sometimes at the Corporate Challenge. Even though she was clearly weakened by her private battle with cancer, she never stopped smiling or praising others - and most notably I never heard her utter one word of complaint about herself or her condition.

I will always respect and admire her.

Rest in peace Grete. Or maybe I should say: if there is a heaven up there somewhere, Grete is out for a run in its cool mountain forest, probably encouraging others along the route, always giving back, making everyone else feel special.


  1. Run in peace, indeed. What a great person.

  2. "I've lost a mentor and a hole model" - Joan Benoit Samuelson after hearing the news on Waitz death in 2011

    "I'll never do this stupid thing again" - Grete Waitz to her husband after running - and winning with a world record - her first marathon ever.

    Enough said.


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