In 2012, Greek marathon runner John Spinoulas read an article on the internet about two Greek Australians wanting to run from Marathon to Athens to raise money for stray animals.
Not only did he end up joining them in that run, but he is now managing the annual event known as the Penny Marathon. Neos Kosmos caught up with him on the eve of the run, which is set to take place for the fourth time this year on Sunday 12 July.
“When I read that post about sisters Eleftheria and Pep Prodromou planning to run a marathon for stray animals in Greece and Australia in mid-June, right in the heart of summer, it seemed like a crazy idea,” John says.
“I liked the cause and really wanted to see Ellie and Pep’s dream become a reality and I figured I could really contribute to the cause.
“Next thing I asked a friend and fellow runner to join me and that’s how everything got started,” he tells.
In 2012, Penny Marathon was a small team of runners and cyclists doing the classic route from Marathon to Kallimarmaro Stadium in Athens. This year the route starts from Thissio train station in downtown Athens and finishes at Vouliagmeni, running along the water the whole way.
“We wanted to spread the message and we really wanted to be seen, so we decided to go to the beach, where most people will be,” John says.
Meanwhile, four major cities are taking part on the same day, not just in Greece but in Australia as well. Athens, Salamina and Kalamata as well as Sydney are embracing the cause and hundreds of runners are expected to test their speed and stamina – especially in Athens, where running at that time of year can be very demanding.
“You definitely need to be in a good shape, well trained and have people supporting you because you are going to need a tonne of liquids if you want to make it to the finish line.”
“This is the reason we’re starting time at 5:30 am so we can avoid running in the sun for too long,” he explains.
For the first time this year, the marathon will include a 20-kilometre stand up paddle-board component, which means that paddlers will be in the water while the runners, cyclists and dogs hit the street.
“Dogs will run as well, but not for the whole 42 kilometres, because of the high temperatures of the season.”
“Some runners asked if they could register to run with their dogs and we happily accepted them,” he continues.
John hopes the Penny Marathon will become a worldwide annual event to help animal shelters across the world and those who have devoted their lives to help and support stray and unwanted animals. Internet and social media coverage in general has brought the Penny Marathon to people’s attention, as the cruelty and abuse that is inflicted upon stray animals every day is condemned by the media on a daily basis.
“People see endless strays looking for adoption on-line. Some people can’t afford taking care of an animal so I guess they see the Penny Marathon as an opportunity to contribute,” he tells.
“They also see volunteers doing an incredible job in helping these animals and, in turn, are inspired to help themselves.”
John and the Prodromou sisters see their marathon as a way to raise awareness of an issue that has existed in Greece for far too long, and continues to worsen as the economic crisis continues to impact every facet of life.
“Now more than ever Greek pet owners are abandoning their pets in the streets to starve to death or get hit by a car since they have no experience in finding food or shelter and they’re not used to this new and hostile environment.”
“Many of these animals are tied on poles for days, waiting for their owners to come pick them up and if they do survive, they will inevitably produce more pups or kittens, adding more animals to the streets,” he stresses.
After years of trying to motivate “an apathetic and incompetent government” the animal rights activists in Greece have trusted their cause into the hands of individuals and volunteers who care and, most importantly, act. The team, however, is still trying to come to terms with the majority of Greeks easily walking away from an animal that has been hit by a car and lying wounded on the side of the road or an animal that needs food, water or help.
“I have found a cause in life in helping strays and I am extremely passionate about it,” John says.
“If only other people would make an effort to support a good cause they believe in, maybe then our world would seem like a better place to live in.”
* The route of the Penny Marathon in Sydney will begin at Panania and end at Brighton Le Sands. More information on how to donate or get involved is available from the Penny Marathon’s Facebook page. The Penny Marathon is proudly supported by NEOS KOSMOS, AVIS, Lea’s World Travel and KAE International Movers.