Nine-time New York City Marathon champion loses her long battle with cancer.
Written by: Mario Fraioli
Grete Waitz, the nine-time New York City Marathon champion and arguably the most renowned female marathoner off all-time, lost her nearly six-year battle with cancer on Tuesday, passing away in her sleep. She was 57 years old.
Most known for her unprecedented nine New York City Marathon titles between 1978 and 1988, Waitz was also a five-time world cross country champion. She won the gold medal in the marathon at the first World Championships of Athletics in Helsinki in 1983 and captured silver at the 1984 Olympic Marathon. She was also a two-time London Marathon champion (1983, 1986), clocking her personal best of 2:24:54 to win the race in 1986.
Diagnosed with cancer in June of 2005, Waitz was as a true ambassador for the sport of distance running, particularly for women.
“Running a marathon is something many people want to do – it is like the ultimate goal for them,” she told Matt Fitzgerald in an interview with Competitor.com last year. “Not everybody can climb Mount Everest or dance on Broadway but most people can complete a marathon. The numbers of first-timers are increasing and that is why some races get bigger and bigger. I am personally happy to see that so many women take on the challenge of 26.2 miles.”
Waitz’s passing is sending shockwaves throughout the running world. Her reach extended well beyond the finish line, as she devoted much of her time and energy to supporting such charitable organizations such as the Cure Foundation and Special Olympics. She was also an ambassador to the JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge racing series, helping to encourage health and wellness in the workplace.
“She survived six years which doctors consider miraculous and during that time she took care of Jack, her family and started a foundation-building exercise facilities in cancer hospitals,” said Barbara Paddock, a close friend of Waitz and senior vice president at JP Morgan Chase, on Tuesday. “She will always be a super amazing, beautiful, caring, determined woman.”
“God has a strange way of doing things,” added Tracy Sundlun, senior vice president of events at The Competitor Group, who has known Waitz since the early 1970’s. “Perhaps he was a step ahead of things. For her to pass away, the greatest female athlete our sport has seen, to pass away on the day of the Boston Marathon is fitting. It doesn’t make it any less painful, but it’s fitting.”
“To go from this high of exulting in impressive performance earlier in the day to tears of being crushed is just…” added a shaken Sundlun, unable to find the words to finish his sentence.