A Grete Waitz Reminiscence

Back in the early 80s, I made what living I had as a staff photographer for the Independent Florida Alligator (IFA) newspaper. One day I was assigned to go get a photo of a runner to go with a story being worked up by a reporter. I was given the appointment time and place (IIRC, the Holiday Inn University Center at 13th and University). I showed up on time, but the reporter did not. The runner was Grete Waitz, someone about whom I knew little except that she ran well and a lot. As I recall it, she wasn’t yet completely comfortable with English, and I certainly had no Norwegian. Somehow we came to an understanding that I was there to take some photos for the paper. I got some absolutely unremarkable head-and-shoulders type shots, but given that we had more time than originally planned, I also used my 24mm lens to get some wide-angle shots that emphasized her feet in running shoes. I think Ms. Waitz was either perplexed or amused by the angle I was taking photos from, but given the language barrier that didn’t become clear. I left while the reporter was working on the interview.

While I printed the head-and-shoulders portrait, the IFA used the wide-angle shot. Kim Kulish, our photo editor, encouraged me to keep looking for the apropos but unusual approach to a subject.

I spent maybe twenty minutes in Ms. Waitz’ company, but I remembered her fondly as from time to time her name came up in the news or articles. Her extraordinary success in running — and winning — marathons made that a regular thing through the 1980s. Today, I have to remember her sadly, as her name was once again in the news, this time announcing her untimely death due to cancer. She was 57 years old, just six years older than I am now.

A couple of years ago, I know I saw the glassine envelope marked “Grete Waitz” in my collection of negatives from my time at the IFA. I will try to find, scan, and post the photo that I took on that sunny day in Gainesville. I do remember you, Grete, and my life was a bit richer for the experience. My thanks for your forbearance with a young photojournalist and my condolences go to your family for having lost you so soon.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.