13 Nov 2017

A Journey Not a Race – Athens Authentic Marathon ’17

Do you know why they call it a Marathon?

I’m sure most CYA students now know why it’s called a marathon, having heard through the Greek grapevine that the namesake comes from the original long-distance run made from Marathon to Athens in 490 BC.

Legend has it that during the first invasion of the Persian Army in Greece, a trained long-distance runner named Pheidippides was sent as a messenger to Athens to deliver the message that the Persians had been defeated against the Greeks. Pheidippides is said to have run roughly 42 kilometers, and upon delivering the message that the Greeks had beaten the Persians, collapsed and died.

But that’s legend.

Today’s Marathon is in honor of the fabled run from Marathon to Athens, distancing at 42.195 kilometers. And this year, we had five CYA students running the full-length marathon. Anna Cruser, Sam Kupiec, Mary Ninneman, Peyton Lindley and Nikki Anderson who had never run a full-length marathon before. But on Sunday they crossed the finish line and basked in the glory of pushing their bodies to unimaginable distances and coming out on the other side victorious.

marathon kallimarmaro

Making history right on our doorstep. View from CYA on Marathon day

Before the marathon, I met with four of the runners to ask them how they’ve been preparing for this monumental experience. Each shared a palpable excitement for their first ever marathon run. They had never competed in a competition as long or serious as this one. And while they all held a notable nervousness to them, they all had the goal to complete the marathon.

Training for the marathon had been different amongst all the runners, but nonetheless, rigorous. Mary and Sam had taken to the Athenian streets to get the distance that they desired, while Anna and Nikki preferred the outdoor track above the Stadium. Sam’s training had been keeping to a rigid schedule as a way to keep him motivated—he says he’d been preparing for about five months—while Nikki began training six weeks ago.

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Nikki Anderson meters from the finish line


“I knew going into this that I was going to be completely undertrained for it, and not being a super strong runner. I knew that it would be a lot more mental preparing.” Nikki Anderson


Each runner was unique in their pace, their experience, and their determination, but none of this detracted from their common dream: to finish the Marathon in Athens, Greece. When I asked Anna why she wanted to run the marathon she replied that she always wanted to run one, “and there’s no better than the first ever Marathon.”

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Sam Kupiec

Some wished to complete under a certain amount of time. Runner Sam Kupiec said, “I hear there’s a lot of adrenaline on race day, so I might even run a little faster,” and he hoped that the adrenaline would push him to finish the race. Not all the runners had a time goal, others, like Mary, just wanted to finish. For her, the victory would be in completing her first ever full-length marathon in the place where it all began.

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CYA students from Left: Paulina Martinez, Abigail Baxter, Sam Kupiec, Jack Schwab

Family and friends were committed to following everyone’s progress, and cheering them on long before Race Day. When asked if Anna’s family was eager to watch her race she said, “Oh yeah. They’re more excited than me!” It was clear that half of the preparation for the marathon was a solid support team. It was motivating to have people following your progress, to know that there were voices cheering you on in the stands. In the week before the race, Nikki had been getting messages from family saying “We can’t wait to see pictures, and see what time you come in!”

The value of having a solid support team and encouragement cannot be better illustrated than by Nadia Meliniotis (CYA Executive Director of Student Affairs). She ran the Athens Authentic Marathon for the first time in 2003. Since then, from day one she encourages every single student to take part, even if they aren’t runners. Students always come back to tell her how grateful they are for her encouragement, and how proud they are,  it’s a big deal.  When I asked her how she motivates students, she said “I give students the example of myself. I did not train to run the marathon, I exercise regularly but I’m not a runner. I just said to myself one morning, Nadia, you have to do the marathon!”

A Journey Not a Race - Athens Authentic Marathon '17 1990 Nadia w Marathon Anthony Tuck Wendy Tool Gretchen Grozier

Twenty-Seven years ago (1990) Nadia Meliniotis in her CYA t-shirt waiting at the finish line to greet the 4 students who ran the marathon pictured. From left: Gretchen Grozier, Wendy Toole, Anthony Tuck, Christina Jade Messer.

“Running the Marathon that autumn is one of my happiest memories.” – Anthony Tuck CYA fall ’90 (Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts).

“I remember being so excited” – Gretchen Grozier CYA fall ’90 (Manager of Operations at Harvard).

The Athens Authentic Marathon is the original and one of the most challenging marathon courses. Nadia completed the 42 km race in 6 hours and she insists the point is not the race, it is the feeling of finishing in the Kallimaramaro and receiving your medal. Thinking about that moment now evokes the same strong emotions she felt that day. “The atmosphere is electric, everyone is buzzing with, excitement, the music is pumping out loud. As you come closer and closer to the finish line the crowd cheers louder, applauding, shouting words of encouragement ‘Come on, you can do it!’. When I finally crossed the finish line I was crying, overwhelmed with a euphoric feeling of joy and accomplishment. I passed my friend Stelio at the kiosk shouting “Stelio, Stelio, I did it!! Can I have a chocolate bar?” and he said take all of them, their yours!”

Nadia explains that the marathon is an unforgettable, truly indescribable experience and all part of the feeling of being in Athens. “Study abroad is about experiences and accomplishing things of course, the academic program is excellent but it’s the whole experience that changes the person. There are certain things in your life that you must do once, this is one of them.”

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Mary Ninneman & Anne Cruser cross the finish line together

After the marathon. No matter what time the runners came in, they all did the same thing when they crossed the finish line: they raised their arms in the air, with their chests puffed out and rejoiced. Their heads were thrown back, and their smiles nearly split their faces. Psychologists call it the “body language of victory”. It’s the stance of triumph, and it has been seen on athletes of all races, genders, and ages—even blind athletes in the Paralympics demonstrate the triumphant pose, proving that it is not something we saw at an early age and learned to imitate. No, it means we are biologically wired to celebrate in such a pose. And every runner on Sunday, without fail, put their arms above their heads and grinned. Why? Because they triumphed even when their legs cramped, and their lungs burned, and their feet blistered.

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Peyton Lindley

“I felt very relieved when I crossed the finish line. The race challenged me physically and mentally, but the last 10K, when I could see Athens really motivated me to finish. I began recognizing buildings and then ending at our neighborhood stadium felt familiar and relieving.” Peyton Lindley


To all the runners who are reading this, I congratulate you. You have achieved a very great thing. Not everyone can push their body to the limit and still stand. It may take physical strength to actually move your body past the finish line, but it is your mental strength that brought you there.

Emil Zapotek said that An athlete cannot run with money in his pockets. He must run with hope in his heart and dreams in his head.”

That is the spirit of the Marathon, and of pure athletism. We all have goals, but dreams are different. Dreams are passionate and they are hopeful. And I hope you all achieved one of your dreams on Sunday. Many people find the idea of a marathon daunting, and give up without even trying. But none of you gave up; you succeeded, and while there may have been obstacles along the way—both physical and mental—you overcame those obstacles. Congrats. Now go get your medals engraved.

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CYA Students from Left: William Delfeld, Mary Ninneman, Alexa Palomo, Anne Cruser, Cameron Plath

Congratulations to all students that took part in the 35th Annual Athens Authentic Marathon:

CYA Full Marathon (42k ): Peyton Lindley, Nikki Anderson, Samuel Kupiec, Anna Cruser, Mary Ninneman (5k): Julia Spiegel  (10k): Lindsay Schwartz

Marathon Volunteers

Volunteers: Kiernan O’Keefe & Hannah Bakowski

CYA & CSB/SJU Group Volunteers: Hannah Bakowski, Kiernan O’Keefe, Anthony Xu, Haley Olson, Hailey Wanna, Sarah Greenwell, Matthew Genereau, Anthony Juba, Samantha Halseth, Kailee Gallagher, Katherine Commers, Megan Barta, Maxwell Schaller, Linsey Sanchez, Kathryn Bulanek and Justine Revermann

CSB/SJU Group Full Marathon (42k): Austin Hill, Claire Baker, Elijah Poferl, Carter Scrimshaw (5k): Daisy Dominguez, Abby Rottjakob, Brooke Dummer, Alyssa Wentworth, Emily Corbid, Sara Goranowski, Maggie Lewis, Alyssa Louwagie, Taylor Pickthorn, Katie Larson (10k): Steph Palmer, Lydia Farmer, Colin VanKeulen