It was two Greek Australians, not runners, who came up with the idea of The Penny Marathon as a means to bring attention to the plight of stray, abandoned, neglected and abused companion animals (cats and dogs) in 2012. The Penny Marathon, named after Penny, a stray dog in Greece whose life ended due to animal cruelty, also aims to provide support the people and groups that fight to save animal lives.
When word spread over the internet that they were planning to run the original 42-kilometre run in Greece, they were approached by two seasoned runners who offered to join them. These runners, in turn, recruited some cyclists to help with on-road support. The runners and cyclists were allowed to enter The Panathenaic Stadium: home of the modern Olympic Games.
It was with this spirit of solidarity that the Penny Marathon originally kicked off in the early hours of 16 July 2012 on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year and it was so well-received that it has since become an annual event with teams now running, cycling, swimming, paddling, rolling and so on in several cities around the world.
The money raised through donations and sales is primarily used for various stages of the rescue–rehome process, such as medical emergencies, boarding, food and bedding, spay and neutering, vaccinations, travel and other essential costs.
On Sunday 16 July this year, The Penny Marathon comes to Sydney and amongst the many volunteers and seasoned athletes raising awareness, Australian animal lover, devoted activist, and Pets Haven volunteer George Janev – who is also the founder of the Pawprintrun initiative – is dressed in blue and white, preparing to run for paws again.
Neos Kosmos and Penny Marathon founder Eleftheria Prodromou got him to answer a few questions about his overwhelming love for animals.
How and why do you use your athleticism to raise awareness for animals in need?
I have always been an active and healthy person. I reached the age of 25 and I was getting that feeling that I had never pushed my body to its full potential. I had become a local community advocate for the animal shelter Pets Haven Foundation in Woodend, Victoria, amongst my friendship circles. The reason why I do this is simply because I am fortunate enough that I can! We live in a time where personal struggle and punishment is recognised and rewarded. If I push myself, I can do good things in a really special way for a really special cause.
How did this – fundraising and raising awareness through running – come about? Was there a turning point or was it a gradual evolution?
Timing was a beautiful thing for me. I was coincidently reflecting on the past 12 months of volunteering for Pets Haven. I was thinking “I can do more. How can I do more?” The final piece of the puzzle was an email from an ex-colleague that registrations had just opened for the Melbourne Marathon, which I had been saying I should do for the last three years. It was the perfect storm and the Pawprintrun idea of mine was born.
You are flying to Sydney to run the Penny Marathon. Why are you taking part?
Sometimes it’s not just about the cause, but it’s also the people behind the cause that matter. At the end of the day, they are the cause. I have not yet met Ellie Prodromou, but I believe in her. I also believe in what she has created with the Penny Marathon. Therefore, participating in the Penny Marathon is nothing short of an honour for me.
How best do you define yourself? Animal welfare activist? Rescuer? Conservationist?
I define myself as a nice person just trying to constantly be a little bit every day. If I had to define myself, I would say that I have become spiritual and can connect to my inner happiness. This is the fuel in my tank to keep me moving upwards and onwards.
Tell us about your work with Pet Haven Foundation in Victoria.
Pets Haven is a special place. I just feel at home there. When you get there in the morning, you wake up all the cats and dogs because they are excited to see a person because that means treats, walks, and cuddles! Animals do what animals do-(doo), therefore it is by no means a ‘glamorous’ role. The magic always happens at the end of the day, around four o’clock. When it’s been a long day and you spend some quality time with the animals. You have walked them all two or three times by now and hopefully they have had the chance to burn off some energy and are in the mood for cuddles. This feeling, and these connections, are simply magical!
You have quit your white-collar job and are travelling to Africa to volunteer at an ape sanctuary. How and why did you decide to make such a change?
After doing my first marathon and running a successful fundraising campaign for Pets Haven, I began to reflect. I was almost 26, I had just experienced the best moment of my life, so far. I couldn’t go back to being ordinary. I was going to keep being extraordinary.
I also attended an event where I heard the amazing Jo-Anne McArthur speak about her work as an animal photojournalist and animal rights activist. One of her stories was about Ape Action Africa. Halfway through her presentation, I had a moment that I can only describe as a call to action. It was overwhelming and I had the sensation I was flying again. I think I missed most of what Jo-Anne was actually saying after this because I was mentally checking off whether there would be any barriers to me going to Cameroon, Africa.
What does the future hold for you with regard to your passion to help animals?
The future is something I am very excited about. It is a complete mystery to me considering the journey and changes I have made in the last two years. I am excited to see what I can do. I hope in the future I manage to tap into my full potential, to leave a legacy that, when I have children, would make them proud to call me dad.
How many marathons have you run and what future runs do you have planned?
The Penny Marathon will be my third marathon. I have entered the Running the Rift Marathon in Uganda, which will be straight after my posting at Ape Action Africa. I will be in Europe for two months after Uganda and I plan to knock over a couple of winter marathon festivals. What better way to do some sightseeing!
What important messages do to want to get across to people?
Find your inner most simple happiness. Once you find this, do not let go! Pursue it, capture it, build on it. This will be your success because you will always be truly happy.
* Adopt don’t shop! The annual Penny Marathon in July attracts hundreds of runners and cyclists in cities around the world. It is supported by Neos Kosmos and Lea’s World Travel. To learn more about how you can participate, visit the Penny Marathon website