First of all, I need to state that I am not an impartial reporter when it comes to this story. Tanja, a 37-year old mother of four, who hours ago completed her first ever marathon in Berlin, Germany, is my elder daughter. So this story is both a tribute and congratulations by a proud father.
For me, this story started 20 years ago in Boston, the site of another famous marathon. It was June 1993. Tanja Anne was a high school sophomore. She and I were checking out Harvard, Dartmouth, Princeton and some other Ivy League colleges. (She eventually ended up at Georgetown, graduating from there in 1998).
Ever since about the age of nine, Tanja has been a competitive swimmer. Her trademark were endurance races. She excelled at long distance events, like 800m and 1,500m (one mile).
One sunny afternoon, we decided to go out for a run up and down Boston Commons, the parklike but hilly part of the downtown area. Tanja was definitely not a runner back then. Even though she was in top physical shape as a long distance swimmer, age 17, she was dying on the hills of Boston Commons. I noticed that that was probably because of her shallow breathing. I used to do the same thing when I was younger. So I tried to teach her how to take deep breaths while running.
Fast-forward two years to July 1995. Tanja had just completed a study-abroad program in Prague, Czech Republic. The war in Bosnia was at its apex. I was just returning from one of my fact-finding and war reporting trips there (see “All in a Day’s Work (Karadzic)” and “On the Run…”). So Tanja and I agreed to meet in Vienna and spend some time together.
After Vienna, we traveled to Berlin then Warsaw. From there, I flew to Paris to run a (business) client workshop, while she returned home to Phoenix. While in Berlin, we went for long bike rides all over the city. The East Berlin was still a virtual ruin, after decades of communist rule there. Here’s a shot of a wall near Checkpoint Charlie I took. It contained a profound message: “Border runs not between nations but between up and down” (of social classes).
Fast-forward 20 years to April 30, 2013. I got an email from Tanja about her intention to run in this year’s Berlin Marathon. I was stunned, especially given the foregoing Boston Commons story. In the meantime, this former Wall Street and Moscow investment banker had become a mother of four (three kids of her own, and one from her husband’s former marriage). Tanja said she wanted to help raise money for the British charity for children with cancer (her recent photo is on the right).
Of course, I pledged to support her in her cause. Her quest was all the more challenging because I knew that she and her large family were planning to move this summer from London to Vienna. So having to make time to train every day for her first ever marathon on top of having to organize such a complex move was no small feat.
Her 7-year old son would occasionally join her on his bicycle, she said. And her husband, an Austrian, is a long distance runner who possibly inspired her to take up the challenge. So she had good support among her family, too. Still, running, like swimming, is a lonely sport. In the end, it’s up to you and you alone.
Well, today was Tanja’s big day. And she was not alone. Over 40,000 athletes from around 120 countries set off on the 26-mile course, cheered on by a million spectators, more than 70 live bands and dance groups. This is the fastest marathon in the world. In fact, Kenya’s Kipsang, the eventual winner, set the new marathon world record in today’s race.
Tanja’s whole family, including the teenage daughter who is still attending a private school in England, were also on hand to cheer her on. It is not clear at this stage how many of those 40,000 runners actually finished. It is certain, however, that Tanja did. You can see in the opening photo her official results. And here’s her official certificate, too.
Congratulations, Tanja Anne! Your proud Dad. PS: I have not heard from Tanja personally as yet. Everything you are seeing in this story has been gathered from other official news sources. It is only fitting that humility should be a mark of a marathon runner.
UPDATE: TANJA’S HUSBAND COMPLETES LONDON MARATHON
LONDON, Apr 13, 2014 – So proud of my son-in-law. Congratulations, Bertie! First, my daughter – Bertie’s wife, Tanja Djurdjevic Maier – completed her first marathon in Berlin last September (http://wp.me/p3R16m-5T), and now her husband also did it in London this weekend. And they both ran to raise funds for a worthy cause – “Children with Cancer UK.” –http://www.childrenwithcancer.org.uk/