Grete Waitz was the NYC Marathon! And all of New York embraced this most humble, talented marathoner from Norway.
How sad to hear that the 57-year-old succumbed to cancer, a disease she battled since 2005.
Grete, in her own quiet and unassuming way, grabbed the hearts of marathon fans and inspired so many people all over the world with her will to win and her down-to-earth style. The first time she ever ran a marathon (she ran 1500 and 3000 meters) was at the 1978 NYC Marathon and she set a world record: 2:32:30! Grete let her incredible performances do the talking. She never boasted or let stardom change her gracious, quiet demeanor.
But a star she was! And thousands would come out every year to see Grete Waitz win over and over again -- nine times! No other person, male or female, has ever and probably will ever win nine NYC Marathons!
I covered many of her NYC Marathon victories, starting as a reporter for ABC Radio Sports and then covering several NYC Marathons with WFAN Radio, who would send Imus in the Morning to host his entire show from the finish line. They would throw it to me to interview various personalities and I would stay on to do updates throughout the race. And seemingly every year, I would interview the gracious winner, Grete Waitz.
I'll never forget the marathon in 1992 that she ran with Fred Lebow, who was in remission from brain cancer at the time. They finished with a time of 5:32:34, crossing the finish line together, not a dry eye anywhere. Fred Lebow was one of the most determined and passionate individuals I've ever met! He worked long and hard to put the NYC Marathon on the map, making it one of the most spectacular sporting events in the world. I was so thrilled when he came to a party I hosted in 1991. He was always so supportive and so willing to promote the NYC Marathon all over the world. And when there was Fred, there was usually Grete, helping him promote the November classic all year round.
Young people today have few heroes that they can truly look up to. Grete Waitz was one of those heroes. People of all ages were inspired by her determination, her guts, the way she broke down barriers for female athletes, showing that women could run longer distances. She worked tirelessly to promote the sport and fitness to others. And when she was diagnosed with cancer, she fought it in her own private way, never wanting the attention to be on her, creating a foundation to help others.
I only hope she realizes how many lives she positively touched, including mine.
Be sure to visit Ann's website at www.annliguori.com.