Celebrity Fragrance Designer Runs New York Marathon in Memory of Champion Grete Waitz
Geir Ness came to America to fulfill his dream of becoming an actor. He has achieved amazing success – but not as an actor. As a celebrity fragrance designer, Ness is living his ultimate dream. He’s using his success to inspire others to live happy and healthy lives. Ness arrived in America with a very little money, but his passion and thirst for success has allowed him to achieve an amazing feat that others thought impossible. Through his company Laila, Ness is not only enjoying his success as a fragrance designer, but he’s sharing it with thousands of people as he travels across the country spreading his message of hope. His love and caring spirit was most evident through his bold decision to team with Norwegian Olympic Gold Medalist Grete Waitz, who recently lost her battle with cancer in April of 2011. The true champion that he is, with a commitment to helping those in need, Ness stepped in to run the race for Waitz in November of 2009. This was his very first marathon, a huge decision. It took a lot of training
mentally and physically to prepare for it. This was another way for Ness to help raise money for cancer patients. He ran the marathon in four hours and twenty-eight minutes, raising close to $300,000.
ever run in New York, and she set the world record. She's just a person that if she does something, she gives it 110 percent. Her goal was just to do the best she could do, and that meant becoming the best.
Always remembering where he hailed from, Ness is constantly reminded of his mother’s words of encouragement and her life-long examples of helping others. He is a committed supporter of the Norwegian Cancer Society, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and several other non-profit organizations.
She was always telling people to believe in themselves. She and I talked about how important it is to really believe in yourself. Before she passed away this spring, she said, “Geir, I am just so blessed that I have been here. I can actually make a difference for women's sports.” So she actually made a difference not just for people who are struggling with cancer, but also for women in sports.
Ness shared his excitement of preparing for his first 26-mile marathon, in memory of his friend to help raise money for a disease that affects millions of people. He also shared advice on how to achieve consistent success as a business owner. Monica: Tell me a about what it was like having Grete in your life and what she meant to you. Geir: She was such an inspirational person. She was always very positive, a go-getter. She actually started running marathons unintentionally. She ran shorter distances, not marathons. One day she was in New York with her husband, and he said to her, “Why don't you try to run the marathon?” And she said, “No, I don't want to do that. It's too far, too long.” He somehow talked her into running the New York marathon. She said, “If I'm going to do this, I can do it really fast. I can finish; I can go home again and relax.” During her very first marathon she did just that; she began to run faster. She won the very first marathon she had
So she was a huge inspiration to me and for Norwegians, that she got Norway on the map because nobody had done that before. She just showed people how to really believe in themselves. Monica: After being diagnosed with cancer, she was unable to run the last marathon and you took over for her. What was that experience like? How did you prepare or train for it? Geir: She wrote a book about how to prepare for a marathon. She advises to “Start pretty slowly.” You start to run maybe, 25 or 30 minutes, for a few times. I also work out a lot, so I had a little more experience in working out than most people do when they're first going to start. But the important thing was to start very slowly, then increase it to 45 minutes, then one hour-and-a-half. Make sure you're eating healthy. Drink a lot of water.
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I started very slowly, and at the end, about a few weeks before the marathon, I would run probably for three hours. Then she also told me when you run a marathon, when you go to the station where you get water and other liquids, you can walk for 10, 15, or 20 seconds sometimes in between, and it's good for you. You can take small breaks in between, which I also did a few times, and that really helped me because I saw people just running and running. At the end, they couldn't finish it. So she was very strict about taking these little breaks and not giving everything you have in the beginning, just run at your own pace. It was important just to keep going, and that really helped me through the marathon, because I thought at the end I was going to die. I first came over Brooklyn and into Queens and over the bridge into Manhattan, up First Avenue, all the way up to the
Bronx, to make sort of a U-turn and go back onto Fifth Avenue and into the park. And I thought, “When I come into Manhattan, which is where I live, it will be easy.” I didn't have much energy left. I couldn't believe it. It was like I don't know if I can do this. But I said, “Yes, I can do this,” and I did, but it was really hard.
homeless person. I said, “I don't have any money.” And he said, “Oh, you ran the marathon. I see the medals. You're okay. You can ride for free.” I was thinking, “Thank you. Hallelujah.” You don't know how it is to not have money and be in the streets of Manhattan. I mean oh, my God. It was just unbelievable.
I remember when I went to the finish line and received my medals; I then had to walk to get out of the park. You can't just walk right out. They had a closed-in area, so you had to go for about 40 minutes before you could walk out of the park. As I was walking, I remembered I didn't have any money with me because I actually thought I could just walk home. But you know what, I could barely move at all. And I didn't think about that, how I would get home without having any money for the bus or for cab fare.
Monica: Overall it sounds like it was an exciting time.
I walked up to 86th Street on the west side, and the bus came. I felt like a
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Geir: Yes, it was. I learned a lot, even from that experience. All of a sudden you have no money at all, not even one dime, and I could imagine people who don’t have anything at all, and they don't have family. I have a family, a home, and I have friends. But a lot of people don't have anything. How do they live? How do they get by? It just really puts your life into perspective.
Monica: During the time that you were training, you still had to run your business. How did you manage that? Geir: I did it early in the morning or in between what I had to do. I always scheduled in. I didn't run every day, maybe three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. I always had a couple of days in between, so my body could rest a little. Near the end within the last month, I trained only twice a week, and the week before I didn't do it at all. I just had a light little run, like maybe 30, 40 minutes, and that was it, so my body could really get prepared for it. If you run a long period right before, you get so exhausted. You should really have some time off right before you run a marathon. Monica: Looking back on it though, do you feel that you were well prepared for it? Geir: You know what? I did, but I think I probably could have been better prepared. I don’t think I did enough of those longer runs. I realized that about a month before the marathon. I ran the marathon in four hours and twenty-eight minutes. I was just happy to complete it. Monica: How did having the opportunity to run in a marathon and do it for your friend who was ill, impact your life mentally, emotionally, and physically? Geir: I have to say it really opened my eyes. I do a lot of charity work and all that, but when you do something like this to prepare for something that you never really thought possible, it was an honor for me to do it, and I honestly never in my life thought about doing a marathon.
I'm starting to think differently, that if you change your mindset and prepare yourself, you can actually achieve any goal. Early on I said, “Okay. I'm going to train. I'm going to do this. I'm going to like it. You're running the marathon, and it's a blessing that you can be able to do this on a team with Grete Waitz, a world champion.” It was a wonderful experience for me. One of the persons that I met on the team, she had only had one arm. I met her the day before on the team from Norway. She said to me, “You know my story here.” “No, I don't know your story.” And she began telling me that she was divorcing her husband, and she was in his office to sign divorce papers, or something. Her husband came in with a rifle and shot her, and then he killed himself. She didn't die, but her arm blew off, and she received some shots to her legs as well. Can you imagine? She was limping but she came to run the marathon with one arm and limping around. She said, “You know what? Grete Waitz has inspired me so much, and I want people to see you can do this. Just believe in yourself.” And she actually completed the marathon. She got through the entire 26 miles. Stories like that inspire you to do your best. Monica: You collected close to $300,000 for the charity, and I appreciate your commitment to helping others. You certainly have a wonderful giving spirit. Do you attribute it to your parents? Geir: Yes, for sure. My mom has always said, “You should always give.” She really was an inspiration for me because every time we would go someplace, she would give of herself. We didn't have money to give, but she would give of herself. She
would stop and talk to people and help them if they needed help. Other people in my neighborhood didn't really have any family. So she would sometimes cook for them and clean their houses, because nobody else was doing it. She also said, "This is important, Geir. A lot of times you do things not to get anything back but because you want to give and just to be there for people, and it will come back to you in different ways." So she taught me that at a very early age. That's why for me it's so important, especially now that I’m working on a children's book. It’s important for me to go to schools to try to motivate young kids and inspire them to believe in themselves. Monica: You have given back to many charitable organizations, and many of them have focused on cancer. Is there a particular reason why you have chosen to contribute to organizations that are focused on cancer? Geir: I have a lot of people around me that have had cancer, including my mom and Grete, so I felt that was a natural thing for me to be involved in. Everybody talks about breast cancer. It's huge, but there also a lot of other cancers that not a lot of people will talk about. Men, especially, are not really good at talking about cancer. A lot of people don’t talk about men having breast cancer or colon cancer. I try to become involved as much as I can, because I think it's important. This Christmas I'm going to try to raise money to buy gifts for children in the New York area that don’t have families. I want to be like the little Norwegian Santa.
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Monica: I’m going to change the topic a little. As a business owner, how important is it to share your success with others? Geir: I think it's very important that people see that you can be successful and that you want to share it. You should give back to people who are in need. It's our obligation. If somebody can learn something from me and what I've done, that's a good thing. It’s good for your mind and spirit. Monica: I also understand that you include your mother in a lot of your appearances as you travel throughout the U.S. I would imagine it's a very special relationship that you have with your mother, especially since she inspired you to start your company and you've named your company after her. What is the experience like to have her traveling with you? Geir: Oh, it's a wonderful thing because to have her with me she gets to see how people respond to what I've been doing. Mostly for her, I think she's just proud, and she thinks it's wonderful, but she also loves to see that I have actually tried to copy her and deliver that message to people that I meet. She has seen people come up to me, thanking me for the fragrance ‘Laila’. One woman came up to me and told me that her daughter loves my perfume. She passed away with cancer, but the last thing she put on was my fragrance. So when her mom met me in person, she started to cry and said, “It means so much for me to meet you.” My mom sees these things, and it's really a wonderful thing for her to see that a fragrance can actually make a difference for people.
Monica: Over the span of your business, 15 years, you have overcome many different types of challenges along the way, but you have always maintained a positive outlook on life as well as on your business. What are a couple of challenges that you encountered, and how did you overcome them?
Geir Ness with his mother, Laila.
Geir: The toughest thing was to get my name out there and compete with all those big companies, because they are huge companies. They have million dollar campaigns, and they have a lot of people working for them. When you only have yourself, you have to switch gears and say, “Okay. I’ve got to use myself as the advertisement.” And that can be hard sometimes because everything is new. There were times in the beginning that I only had myself, and I didn't really have the money to come up with anything different. It’s been hard, especially when you have all these other brands or people basically walking all over you and you’re trapped in the middle of these things.
the other times when things are going against you that you really have to be strong. And that's one of the things that my mom taught me. Sometimes we didn't have any money to do anything, but that's when we tried to be creative. I always managed to think back and appreciate what I have and then use that as a tool to make things happen. I’ve never been a person to give up.
When you travel, you sometimes rent a car, but the car will break down. There can be flight delays because of snow. There are many things that people don't think about, but you have to get over all of that.
Monica: I would imagine that you would agree that you can be unknown to most people, but still be successful among much larger brands.
It's been very challenging. Many times I’d sell out and then not get the orders in right away. You have no money coming in, but you still have to pay all the bills. Monica: With all of those things how do you manage to keep your head above water? I mean how do you manage to keep afloat? Geir: Well, that's when the challenge comes in. When things are going well, it's easy to be positive, but it's
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My self-esteem gets stronger and stronger. If you give up once, then it's easier to give up the next time. So you're just trying to think that way, you know, manage to somehow get something negative to become a positive thing.
Geir: Absolutely. It requires dedication and you have to know something about the product, whatever you're going to create. But if you really want to do something and you believe in it, you're good at that, and you have good people with positive energy supporting you, eventually it will happen. People ask me all the time, “Geir, what's your next step now? What do you want to do with your company? Do you want to be the next Ralph Lauren or Calvin Klein?” For me, it's about just sustaining what I do now
and also working on my other projects and charities. Success for me means helping other people. I've never been driven by money. I've been driven by being successful at what I'm doing. When I started my fragrance company, it wasn't because, "I'm going to make a lot of money, and in two years I'm going to make this amount of money." I've never been driven by that. I've just been driven by something that I want and like to do. Monica: The key is to enjoy what you do, make a success of it and then share it with others. If Grete was alive today, what would you say to her? Geir: I would just say to her how much I appreciate her advice about never giving up and believing in myself. I told her that before she died. She was so giving to everybody, and her energy was always so positive, even to the end. Monica: And she left a legacy of hope and compassion and inspiration.
What kind of legacy would you like to leave? Geir: Well, I’d like just to be known for helping to change people's lives. Being there, helping them any way that I can. Of course, to me it's important for kids to be healthy and to stay away from drugs. I try to motivate them and Geir at the Golden Globe Awards. inspire them to focus on staying away from drugs. My goal uct exposure by using yourself first and have a story behind it. Why are is to become a role model for people. you doing it? Why should I buy your sunglasses instead of someone else’s Monica: What one piece of advice sunglasses? Come up with a real can you give new entrepreneurs, peostory that you can tell because everyple who want to start a business but body likes a story, and it's very poware not sure if they should? They’re erful. sitting on the fence. They're not sure whether they want to take the risk or You should also focus on one thing at whether it's going to turn out well. a time. As a new business owner, I What advice can you give them? don't believe you can do 20 things at a Geir: Well, I would just say, first, do time and be good at any of them. Don’t try to be everywhere and everynot spend a lot of money on anything thing to everybody. because you don't need to. People think that you need a lot of money to adver- Also, be very cautious because when you start something and start to do tise or to get to the next level. You can well, you will be surprised how many friends you really get. Most of those start small using Google ads. I think people, unfortunately, just want someit's good to get your thing from you. They don't care about name out there obviyou as a person. They care about ously, but try to do it themselves and what they can get. in a way that it doesJust be careful about the people you n't cost you a lot of have around you and people you meet money in the beginon your way up. Not everybody ning. Be very conwants the best for you. scious of what you do.
Geir speaking at a Fragrance Festival.
For example, if you want to start a sunglasses business, give your brand and prodNovember-December 2011 | Exceptional People Magazine | 11
Published on Dec 2, 2011
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