The NJ Record 4/11
HER FIRST name was Grete. It should have been Grace, because that is what Grete Waitz brought to the sport of running.
But the running craze of today was in its nascent stages when Waitz ran her first marathon in New York City, a 26.2-mile test of physical endurance and mental focus. Running is one of the purest of sports — it is the human body against time, distance and the elements. Fancy running shoes may help, but in the end, it is a contest between the body and the mind.
Athletes like Waitz proved that the prize was more than the glory of crossing the finish line first or opening the door of a sport to women. In 1992, no longer a competitor, she ran the New York Marathon with its founder Fred Lebow, who was in remission from brain cancer.
They ran in tandem, two friends. It was a long, grueling race at more than 5 1/2 hours, more than double the running time of her first world-record marathon in New York in 1978. In this 1992 race, it was not about time, but about the distance traveled with a friend.
Fans will marvel at her record wins. Many a Sunday-morning jogger may imagine what it would be like to cross a finish line crowned with the laurels of victory. But for any of us who admire athletes who achieve the greatness within themselves, it will be the image of Waitz finishing a 5:32:35 marathon with a dying friend that will define how great an athlete she truly was.
Grete Waitz was a champion.