Spirit of the Marathon Statue
It has been a week since I returned from the trip of a lifetime, to Greece and the Greek Islands. After spending 5 beautiful days in Santorini and Mykonos, Jeffrey and I were ready to get away from the cruise ship crowds and retreat to the little beach town of Marathon Greece. One of the benefits of travel is meeting locals who bring a new country to life as I see their pride in showing me the best the country has to offer visitors. On this trip I met Georgia, when we stumbled upon a small museum in a small town, the Marathon Run Museum.
Along with the fascinating history of the Greek Olympic games and the very first Marathon, we viewed Olympic torches and medals, running shoes, and images of famous marathon winners. As I read the story of one fascinating Greek Marathoner, Stylianos Kyriakides, I came to 10″ tall miniature version of a statue I have seen many times before.
“I know this statue! It is just a few miles from my home in Massachusetts!” I exclaimed to Georgia, the guide at the Marathon Run Museum. Georgia was quite as excited as I was and tears filled her eyes as she told me the story of Stylianos Kyriakides., the unlikely winner of the 50th Boston Marathon, and a Greek National Hero.
Having narrowly escaped execution during the Nazi occupation of Greece, Kyriakides sold everything he owned and bought a one-way ticket to Boston. He was 38 years old, emaciated from near starvation during the Nazi occupation of Greece, and had not run any races in six years.
Yet the determined Stylianos defied the doctors who discouraged him from racing that day. As he was at the starting line in Hopkinton, a town 26 miles west of Boston, race officials came over and said he wouldn’t be allowed to run because it was feared he would die in the streets. “He will run!” is mentor said, “He’s running for Greece.”
Stylianos triumphed that day by defeating his friend, the defending champion, American Johnny Kelley. According to Life magazine, he shouted ‘For Greece’ as he crossed the finish line
Using his victory and fame as a platform, Stylianos went on to serve as an unofficial ambassador for his country, raising over $400,000 for reconstruction as well as strengthening ties between the United States and Greece. He brought shiploads of food, medicine, clothing, and other essentials donated by Americans who read about his victory. He was welcomed home by nearly a million people who cheered his return to Athens in May 1946. For the first time since the Nazi Occupation, the Acropolis was illuminated in his honor.
Georgia explained, “We are a poor country. The only nation that has helped us is the US. I love America! It is my dream to come to America, and watch the Boston Marathon.” So, of course, I invited Georgia to come to visit me…and I promised to take her to the start of the marathon in Hopkinton and to see her beloved statue’s twin sister! Unfortunately, she is terrified of flying, and afraid to make the trip. Georgia and I exchanged e-mail addresses, and I will keep in touch with her to see if maybe, one day, I can make her dream come true.
The statue, commissioned by New Balance, and sculpted by the eighty-year-old artist Mico Kaufman, has a twin in Marathon, Greece, the historic birthplace of the first marathon. The two, 10-foot-high statues celebrate the legendary race of the 1946 Boston Marathon and the unlikely achievement of famed Greek marathoner Stylianos Kyriakides.
A popular myth stemming from the Battle of Marathon, says that the first marathon was run in 490 BC by Pheidippides, who ran to Athens from the town of Marathon, Greece to carry the message of a Greek victory in battle. In 1896 Spyridon Louis won the first Olympic marathon. The route between Marathon and Panathenaic Stadium was used again for the marathon during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. The statue depicts Greek Hero Stylianos reaching for his goal, as his role model Louis encourages and cheers him toward victory.
I’ve driven by this monument a thousand times, on my way to boxing, on my drive to the Marathon Quilt Guild meetings, and when visiting Westin Nurseries who donated the land where the bronze sculpture stands. I’ve never given it a second thought.
But now, when I drive by this statue each day, my optimism resurges. It is a monument that serves as a valuable reminder of the power of the human spirit. Stylianos has taught me that any goal is achievable, against all odds, when you are driven by fierce determination, a true love of country, and moral duty to serve others in the best way you know how.
My dear Georgia, we have a connection now that I will always treasure. Thank you for sharing this inspirational story with me. I promise to share it with my Marathon quilters, and anyone else who will listen!