Grete Waitz- a life battle with cancer
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“There is something about the ritual of the race- putting on the number, lining up, being timed-that brings out the best in us.”– Grete Waitz

A successful woman born on October 1, 1953, Oslo, Norway and died April 19, 2011, Oslo. Her name, Grete Andersen, or better known as Grete Waitz. Growing up with the Norwegian tradition of exercise and outdoor activity, she hiked during the summer and went for ski in the winter. As a young child, Waitz loved to run. Her two older brothers, encouraged her and included her in their games with other boys. So, she began trying to race together with the cars and buses on the road.

The first happy years

After the years, she got better and better, and trained for long runs. Grete kept up with the boys! With almost 16 years, she won the Norwegian junior championships and set a European junior record.

Her stimulus? The lack of support. She said: “I was disappointed, perplexed, angry, and only 17 years old.… My bitterness fed my desire to excel. Just as with my parents, this denial of support strengthened my determination.” A lack of support became the strength to go on and get better.

Distance runner Grete Waitz has set a huge amount of world records. She was the first woman to run a marathon in under 2 hours and 30 minutes, and the first female world champion in the marathon. Norwegian marathoner, who dominated women’s long-distance running for more than a decade, won the New York City Marathon nine times between 1978 and 1988.

Go on, Grete!

From her 17th birthday, she began as a middle-distance runner, and set a 1,500-metre European junior record in 4 min and 17 seconds. In total, she captured five titles in the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) women’s cross-country world championship (1978–81, 1983). In addition, she captured gold medals in the inaugural women’s marathon, and a silver medal in the first Olympic women’s marathon.

After his retirement, Grete was the first non-American inducted into the National Distance Running Hall of Fame, in 2000. Finally, in 2008, Waitz was awarded the Order of St. Olav by Norwegian King Harald V.

“She was the first world-class distance runner and she opened the doors for everyone. If it wasn’t for Grete, women’s distance running would not be where it is now,” said Liz McColgan, winner of the New York and London marathons.

The bad site of life

But the sum of those achievements, substantial though they are, is only part of the story. Sometimes, life show us the negative site of it, something that Grete should live. In 1972, when she was 18 years old, she experienced a tragedy—her boyfriend and coach became ill and died.

A whole world broke for Waitz. She stopped eating and running, but her teammates from the track club helped her through the difficult time and encouraged her to use her running and training to help heal her grief.

Grete learned more about sports, more about the different technics and the use of them. Almost, the most significant part was the learning of herself.  Although she did not expect to win a medal in the competitions, she enjoyed the experience and had fun with her friends on the team. Running meant more than sport for her. Meanwhile, she worked as a schoolteacher, and trained during her time off.

Since retiring from competition, Waitz has used her ability to help others who have difficulty in running. She ran with them, and helped them to finish. In 1991, Waitz was named Female Runner of the Quarter Century by Runner’s World magazine.

Grete against cancer!

Sometimes life seems to be a big irony. She felt tired, had pains, and went to hospital. The diagnosis: cancer! For almost six years, Grete has ups and downs in the healthy conditions. Unfortunately, she lost her fight against cancer with only 57 years old.

 “In terms of fitness and battling through cancer, exercise helps you stay strong physically and mentally. 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.”- Grete Waitz

The Norwegian schoolteacher with the most New York City Marathon wins in her back, and with an enormous humility and athleticism, made her a singularly graceful champion and a role model for young runners. Especially for women. An athlete and also a schoolteacher, who taught about discipline, about love for everything you do, about helping, about living the life, and stay strong through all conditions.

“She is our sport’s towering legend,” said Mary Wittenberg, the president of the New York Road Runners. “I believe not only in New York, but around the world, marathoning is what it is today because of Grete. She was the first big time female track runner to step up to the marathon and change the whole sport.”

God bless you, Grete!