EVENT: 2013 Boston Marathon
EVENT DATE: Apr 15, 2013
True greatness is sometimes defined as making the near-impossible seem effortless. Grete Waitz personified this quality throughout her exceptional life. She was so good at what she did that the enormity of her accomplishments was often hidden, and she was so good for so long that she made such excellence seem commonplace.
Waitz was such an unassuming contributor to sport, to children’s programs, and to cancer research that many of her contemporaries were unaware of her extensive good deeds. She didn’t seek attention, though she often deserved it in abundance.
Grete Waitz was the world’s first great woman marathoner, and the first world-class track athlete to attempt the distance. When she came to New York in 1978 to run her first marathon, Waitz didn't just win the race—she set a world record. Afterward, she swore she'd never run another marathon, but she reconsidered, returned to New York in 1979, and lowered her own world record by another five minutes. In 1980, she bested her record once again, which made her nine minutes and six seconds faster than any other woman in history.
Waitz's 1988 victory was her ninth-and final-win in New York. After trying for a tenth and finishing fourth in her slowest time, she retired from serious competition. She became a coach (of 1001 New York City Marathon winner Liz McColgan, among many others), a race organizer (of Grete's Run in Norway, a 5k road race that attracts thousands of women runners annually), an advocate for workplace health and fitness (as the ambassador for the worldwide JPMorgan Corporate Challenge racing series, a position that she held for 25 years), and a fundraiser for such charities as CARE International and the Special Olympics.
When Waitz was diagnosed with cancer in 2005, she responded with the same calm resolve with which she approached an Olympic final or a world record attempt. She turned her formidable concentration to the fight against cancer-not only her own, but that of others. In 2007, she founded Aktiv mot Kreft (Active against Cancer), then arranged a collaboration between the foundation and her longtime sponsor, adidas, who funneled 5 percent of the proceeds from their Grete Waitz clothing link0as much as 1.25 million annually-to supplying cancer hospitals with PET imaging scanners and physical training centers. Waitz often spoke to cancer patients, urging them to exercise.
She died in April 2011, and several months later, NYRR dedicated ING New York City Marathon to her memory. Her husband, Jack, ran the race. He'd battled injuries during the summer, but he was determined to honor his late wife with his best effort. And he did just that, crossing the finish line in just under four hours, and keeping her spirit alive.