As an Olympian, she won a silver medal in the marathon in 1984. Here in the New York City area, she is a running legend: she won the New York City Marathon a staggering nine times. Many still view Waitz as the patron saint of the New York City marathon.
Back in her home country of Norway, she is a national hero whose image adorns a series of stamps and a statue outside the country's largest sports stadium. In 1991 she was voted the best female distance runner in the world for the last century.
Waitz will be in Hoboken on Saturday to support the Bon Secours New Jersey Health System Foundation's Sixth Annual St. Mary Hospital Healthy Neighbors 5K Run. Proceeds from the race will support the building of a new emergency room at St. Mary Hospital and other health services in the Hoboken community.
Circling the globe
"Since my retirement in 1990 I've spent most of my time trying to give back to the running community," said Waitz. That's why, she said, she still enjoys participating in runs and races across the globe. "I think that it's so great that so many people come out to walk or run," she said. "They're not there to show off their athleticism or to break any records; they come out just participate in their community."
Waitz, who spent many years as a teacher in her native Oslo before becoming a professional runner, said that one of her biggest goals as a health and fitness advocate is to support the creation of more fitness programs and sport activities for kids. She is also involved with the New York City Woman's Foundation, an organization that helps inner city kids in the New York area get involved in running, and the Special Olympics.
"When I started [with these organizations], I was shocked to see they have many kids that have little or no access to physical education," she said. "There's a great need for programs that get kids in involved in athletics and sports."
When Waitz came to prominance, the world viewed female long-distance runners in a much different light. Inspired by the likes of Wilma Rudolph, her career began on the track in the 1970s in shorter 400- and 800-meter disances. At the time, women were discouraged from distance running for fear that it was too strenuous.
But by the end of the decade, Waitz began running longer distances and entered her first marathon in 1978 in New York City. Although she had never run more than 13 miles in competition, she not only won this marathon, but also set a world record in the process.
In fact, in four of her nine New York City Marathon victories she set a new world record. "I've always loved New York," said Waitz, "it's a city that has so many different flavors, and its people have always been so nice and so supportive."
She added that she always enjoys participating in small races, like the St. Mary Hospital Healthy Neighbors 5K Run. "Smaller races are so much more intimate and relaxed," she said. Waitz said that she will likely be in the middle of the pack, and encourages runners to say hi along the way.
About the race
The St. Mary Hospital 5K Race is a 3.1-mile road race run along the Hoboken waterfront. The course is USATF certified. There will be clocks at each mile along with water stops.
"The Healthy Neighbors 5K race is an enjoyable outing for the entire family," said Peter Murphy, CEO and executive vice president of the Bon Secours New Jersey Health System Foundation, Inc.
On Friday, Oct. 8 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Pier A, there will be a Meet & Greet with Grete Waitz. Everyone from the community is welcomed to participate.
On Saturday, registration for the race will begin at 7:30 a.m. followed by stretching. The 5K Race will begin - rain or shine - at 9 a.m. The 2 Mile River Walk will begin at 9:20 a.m. and the Kids' Dashes (ages 2 to 12) at 10 a.m.
There is a wide range of activities that complement the 5K run and walk. In addition to the Kids' Dashes, other children's activities include clowns and face painting. Music will also be provided for all to enjoy.
Also featured in this year's race will be Marcus O'Sullivan who became the master world record holder in January 2002 for the indoor 3,000-meter race with a time of 8:09. He is currently the head men's coach for the Track and Field/Cross County programs at Villanova University.
This year's event sponsor is Merrill Lynch. Fleet Bank is the title sponsor. The presenting sponsor is UBS and Knight. Major sponsors include PNC Bank, Erbach Communications Group, Inc., and The Hoboken Reporter. Contributing sponsors include New Balance, Sodexho, Wiley, Advanced Vision Group (AVG), K.J. Sessa, Inc. Supporting sponsors include Corporate Consulting Services, Ltd., Candlewood Suites, Sheraton Suites, and the City of Hoboken.
For more information or if you would like to participate in the St. Mary Hospital 5K Run, River Walk or Kids' Dashes, please call the Bon Secours New Jersey Health System Foundation at (201) 418-2133.