Grete Waitz, nine-time winner of the New York City Marathon who transformed the sport of running, died Tuesday after a six-year battle with cancer. She was 57.
Mary Wittenberg, president and CEO of the New York Road Runners Club, said Waitz was "hugely influential," and a role model for many female athletes.
"She started running at a time when people, when women, started running," she said. "So I really think, especially in New York City, I think little girls grew up wanting to be like Grete."
Waitz ran and won her first New York City Marathon in 1978, and went on to win the race a total of nine times. Wittenberg said Waitz legitimized the marathon in the professional running world, making it a serious athletic event.
"Grete did every bit as much for the New York City Marathon as the New York City Marathon did for Grete," she said, adding that Waitz opened the doors for women runners who followed in her footsteps, like Joan Benoit Samuelson.
Waitz was a former teacher from Oslo, Norway. During her running career, she also won the London Marathon twice, and the silver medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
With the Associated Press