By Aphrodite Kotrotsios, Publisher
I had the opportunity to meet Demetra Veltsistas at the National Hellenic Society’s Heritage Classic Weekend back in October of 2018. Demetra shared with me that she would be running in the Athens Authentic Marathon and right away I congratulated her and told her we must share her experience with our readers. Here is what she had to say about her journey.
AK: Was this your first Athens Marathon?
DV: As an avid runner and Greek American, the Athens Marathon has been on my bucket list for many years and it was such an amazing thrill to finally run it for the first time in 2018. After I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, I made the Athens Marathon one of my main goals to achieve as soon as I was physically able. There were a few setbacks to get to this point but I was determined to make 2018 the year to make it happen.
AK: How did you prepare for the Athens Marathon both mentally and physically?
DV: Like any big goal that you want to achieve, the physical preparation was about staying committed to my training regimen. I ran four times per week, lifted weights and took great care to keep injuries to a minimum. Injuries were my biggest fear and they can happen to any runner so taking care as I trained was very important. In fact, just before the marathon, I developed some back pain and my doctor was concerned about me running.
So much of the physical preparation is related to mental training. In my case, I was relentlessly determined to overcome any physical challenges. When I was a kid my mother always used to say, “ don’t let obstacles get in the way of what you want to do, you can accomplish it if you are determined… so go make it happen.” For me it wasn’t about being fast, it was about crossing the finishing line no matter what.
AK: What kept you going throughout the Marathon?
DV: One of the proudest moments of my life was running the Athens Marathon. I have run other marathons in the U.S. but this one is THE marathon because it is in the motherland. Greece is so much a part of who I am and I wanted to make my family proud and show that you can do anything you put your mind to. Being there and seeing the people cheering the runners gave me the extra willpower to push through despite some back issues that I was experiencing. I listened to my body and my heart which helped me stay focused on the “prize,” to finish the race without any injury.
AK: What was it like running through Mati, Greece?
DV: Running this race was filled with emotional highs and lows. As I ran through this village that was destroyed by wildfires, I was overwhelmed with sadness knowing how much these people have lost—loved ones, their homes. And yet these people who had suffered so much lined the streets to cheer the runners. Overwhelmed, I stopped to talk with a few and thank them for their support which meant so much. Instead, they were thanking me for running through their village. What compassion and resilience they had to cheer on these complete strangers.
AK: Would you encourage others to participate in next year’s Athens Marathon?
DV: The feeling of being a proud Greek-American and crossing that finish line was like no other feeling I have ever had doing any race. I would encourage all of my fellow Greeks and runners of any stripe, regardless of where they live to go run or participate in some way in this event. There is no other race like it.
Running the Athens Marathon was the fulfillment of a dream. Cancer changed my life. It taught me to harness my energy and focus on the things that are truly important. It also made me realize that you can truly do anything if you put your mind to it. It gave me the courage to go after my dreams.
My husband and kids mean everything to me and they supported me throughout this journey. There were many times I missed family events so that I could go on long runs and they understood. Their support gave me the strength to keep pushing forward to achieve my dream even when things got challenging, like when my back hurt. I also had the support of my many friends who helped me prepare to run this race. To experience the place where the marathon began and where my family originated was an experience of a lifetime. I feel blessed to have met so many incredible people and to have achieved this important milestone.