Monday, April 25, 2011

tears for grete

reading the tributes to the fallen. i've seen it go both ways over time. very generic, speaking about them as an athlete or champion. very noting of accomplishment that allows the reader to reference why we remember them. the footnote of death a small part of the prose.

it's been almost a week since grete passed and i continue to read about her legacy. sure, her pedigree as an athlete is duly noted and deservedly, so. interspersed with notes on her world records and marathon wins are good words about her humility. her tugging on the pant leg of fred lebow before her first nyc marathon because she didn't know where she was supposed to stand. sharing a seat in the olympic stadium with joanie after taking silver in the marathon. friends, as well as, competitors. i read an article from a wife of a sportswriter who maintained a 19 year pen pal relationship with grete after all the wins were done for her, even getting the last, short, email on thursday before her death with an apology that she didn't have the energy to put pen to paper and hoped she wouldn't mind...after 19 years.

records broken. races have been won by others. legacy intact, true...competition long finished. i remember being angry in 2003 when someone interrupted a conversation grete was having with a member of my pace team asking her "what was she famous for?" and wondering why she should stand in line for her autograph. i followed the woman out of the expo and dropped some knowledge on her about grete, to which the woman replied "i wasn't a runner back then, so it doesn't mean anything to me". i reminded her that part of the reason why women were running marathons were because of women like avail. when i returned, grete was still having a very in depth conversation with my fellow pacer, unfazed by the ignorance of others. sharing, freely of her time and energy. compassionate. warm. looked you in the eye. when she gave you a hug, she meant it and it felt so. this was a scene that was repeated at several marathons over the next couple of years. always she remembered all of our names and even followed what marathons we had been at between seeing her. she was supposed to be at twin cities in 2005 and we noted that her spot in the adidas booth was empty and few knew why. i saw her at the nyc marathon a month later and couldn't believe how unusually skinny she was. she had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing treatment, but had not yet made it public. that hug in new york was the last time i saw her. seeing thousands of folks have a moment with their hero is something i'll never forget

when i read the news of her passing, i was sad for humanity's loss. reading the tributes, the tears flowed because i realized that what i had seen in her as an athlete, person and friend was shared by many others who's experiences with her were as rich as what my pacer experienced at that marathon in 2003 and we all continued to experience at events over the next couple of years.

i have very, very few autographs. very few. the inside of my race bib from the 2003 LA Marathon is inscribed with her name, my experiences with her are inscribed on my heart.

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