The legendary Norwegian marathon runner Grete Waitz died last night. She ran her first New York City marathon as an unknown at age 25, not only winning the race but shattering the world record by a full two minutes. She went on to win a total of nine New York City marathons, a record that has not been matched by any other runner. I had the great privilege of seeing her cross the finish line on many of those wins. Waitz was known for her dignity, decency, and grace, and has served as an inspiration for generations of runners. She is considered by many to be one of the greatest athletes of the century.
Waitz had been battling cancer for many years. When discussing her fitness level and how it has enhanced her ability to fight the disease, she is quoted as saying, “I am convinced you can go through a lot more when you are physically fit. It is both physical and mental. With the athletic background, you think more on the positive side — you can do this.” Running the race in 1992, in what she considered her “tenth victory,” she crossed the finish line hand-in-hand with Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York City Marathon. He was battling brain cancer at the time. Waitz created a cancer foundation called Aktiv Mot Kreft (Active Against Cancer), which among other things sponsors runners in major races. Waitz believed that physical activity could prevent cancer and improve quality of life for those afflicted with the disease.
Click here for coverage and photos in the New York Times.