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The Great Grete Waitz

October 04, 2013 by Coach Gail Kislevitz

If you are running Grete’s Great Gallop Half Marathon on Sunday, you should know something about the legendary woman it is named for. Grete Waitz was a young track star in her home of Oslo, Norway, as well as a national champion in many events throughout Europe but unknown in the United States. In 1978, when she planning on retiring from competing, her husband and coach, Jack Waitz, suggested she apply to run the NYC Marathon so they could get a free ticket to New York and wine and dine all weekend. She was accepted as a rabbit, meaning that Fred Lebow, the race director, thought her track speed would set a fast pace for the elite females and then Grete would fade out around mile 10.

But Grete did not fade. Standing at the start line with her pigtails, she had never run more than 12 miles, didn’t speak English, and had no clue how long a marathon was. She went out fast and stayed fast. In her first marathon appearance she not only won, but also took a full two minutes off the women's world record. She went on to win the NYC Marathon nine times and broke the world record three years in a row. In all, she lowered the women's world record by nine minutes.

A former school teacher, she was a natural to become the first Chairperson of our youth running programs. She adored the kids and went to as many of their events as she could. At her namesake race, she started all the kids’ races, and then went to the start line of the half marathon and high-fived the runners, wishing them well and then greeted them home at the finish. After the race she spoke to our TFK members, giving them tips and inspiration. She was open, humorous, kind, supportive, and everyone fell in love with the woman in pigtails. 

Grete died of a long battle with cancer in 2011 at the age of 57. She is missed by all who knew her or were inspired by her. So if you are running Grete’s race on Sunday, channel her and she will answer.

Categories: Human Interest
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