After years of idolizing her running greatness, when I finally saw Grete Waitz in person I was amazed to see that the running giant I had looked up during my years of training was about as far from a giant as you could imagine.
I remember walking into the lobby of the New York City Road Runner’s Club that day to find Grete and Fred Lebow (then President of the NYRRC and the man credited with turning the NYC Marathon into the race it is today) just hanging out and talking like mere mortals.
She was smaller than I had expected — shy, unassuming … almost as if she thought she was just another runner.
She looked up, smiled, said hi to me and pretended not to notice that my jaw was somewhere down around my ankles.
The headline announcing her death this morning was as simple and unassuming as the woman about whom it was written:
One of the perks of working for a television news station is that I hear the news long before it becomes news.
Yet I doubt anyone in my newsroom at the time this headline came across the Associated Press wire was affected as much as I was.
“Who died?” asked my fellow editor when I read the breaker and announced “Oh my God. Grete Waitz died.”
Although I knew she had been diagnosed with cancer several years ago, news of Grete’s death was still unexpected.
After all, heroes are supposed to live forever.
Grete Waitz was a marathon icon who inspired millions, including a then 24-year-old marathon novice whose stories about her hero in Runner’s World Magazine inspired her to train for three New York City marathons.
Knowing that Grete was in the lead, helped me finish all three New York City marathons I started.
In 1984, injuries kept me from running New York. As a consolation prize, I travelled to Scandinavia that summer and coincidentally found myself in front of a huge bronze statue of Grete that had just been erected outside Bislett Stadium in Oslo, Norway.
But that was just the beginning of the story.
During that trip, I met a family from Los Angeles who invited me to visit them and attend several events during the Los Angeles Olympics. Among those events, I got to see Grete compete and win the silver medal in the women’s marathon.
Fred Lebow died on October 9, 1994. He always said his biggest regret was not being able to run the marathon he helped create.
Grete and Fred were reunited today. And while runners around the world mourn, there is happiness in heaven as the two greatest symbols of the world’s greatest marathon set off together on their marathon to eternity.
It’s time for me to go for a run.