I was reflecting on the inhumanity of the Boston Marathon bombings a few weeks ago and couldn’t help but think of the humanity of another story from years ago– also from the Boston Marathon. This one involves a destitute Greek runner named Stylianos Kyriakides.
Kyriakides ran for Greece in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, where he met Johnny Kelly, a fellow runner from Boston. Kelly and Kyriakides stayed in touch and a decade later, the American invited his Greek friend to take part in Boston.
Greece was on her knees, reeling from years of a devastating Nazi occupation and Civil War that led to death, destruction and starvation everywhere. Kyriakides himself hadn’t trained and wasn’t prepared, physically– or emotionally, for what would be the most important race of his life.
Kyriakides came to Boston in 1946, not only to win the most famous race in the world. He came to bring attention to the suffering of his people and to rally support from people in the United States.
Emaciated and with hardly any training, he miraculously won the race. And with it, the love and admiration of an entire nation of Americans. He not only returned to Greece a hero, but with millions of dollars of commitments of food, medicine, and an increased awareness of the Greek struggle by practically every American.
According to newspaper reports, he was running with legendary runner Johnny Kelley near the end, when an old man shouted from the crowd, “For Greece, for your children!” inspiring him to pull away and win the race in 2:29:27.
He shouted ‘For Greece’ as he crossed the finish line.
This is the real legacy of Boston and those who have been inspired by this marathon. Every time we think of the bombings on 2013, let’s recall the humanity of 1946.