Mary S
Jogging with the Greeks

By Mary Shiraef

A little competition and a good playlist are all one needs for an invigorating workout session. Well, the Greeks are renowned for their competitive spirit and, a collection of 80s and 90s workout music is enough to get anyone going.

I set out for my jog today where I usually go:

The Kallimarmaro Stadium, also called the Panathenaic Stadium, is the site of the first modern Olympic games in 1896. It is built entirely out of white marble and occupies the site of the ancient Olympics. A famous benefactor by the name of Evangelis Zappas funded the entire project. According to my Greek language teacher Eleni, his descendants are still responsible for the upkeep of the hill surrounding the stadium. Behind the back wall of the stadium lies a u-shaped jogger’s path with well-maintained outdoor exercise benches. On an urban walk a few Fridays ago, Eleni reminded us (many times) that most of the beautiful buildings and gardens in Athens are the product of rich benefactors and not from the government. Hm.

I set out for my jog with EMF’s “Unbelievable” blasting. The sun was just starting to set, and a nice, cool breeze was in the air. Being Sunday, it seemed that everyone was trying to get a good start to the week, as there were more joggers out than usual.

I sped up and passed two middle-aged guys to allow room for an oncoming jogger. These guys would have none of this. They picked up their pace to jog a few steps ahead of me. Having some Greek in me as well as a few older brothers (seven, to be exact), I probably have more of a competitive spirit than I usually let on. So, I dug down deep and pushed ahead of my newfound opposition. This back and forth banter continued for about a half of the curve of the stadium, when out of nowhere, an older man – at least the age of 75 – bolted straight through the 3 of us. His neck held forward ahead of the rest of his body and his fists at his side clenched in determination, this baller of a grandpa was giving it all he got. His lower body was entirely responsible for the movement propelling him forward, and watching him shoot past us might be one of the amusing sights I’ve ever seen.

My new “friends” and I got a burst of energy from this inspirational man (possibly a Greek god), and we sprinted past Grandpa George. I admittedly fell behind the guys after a turn-around spot (remember, the track is U-shaped), and they never let me forget it. I pretended to not notice their chest thrusts when we crossed each other after that point, but usually just gave in and laughed. Having run faster and further than I usually do, I of course had to develop a sharp cramp in my upper rib cage. I walked to the water station where none other than my conceited competitors had also stopped for a drink. They graciously (and haughtily) let me go ahead of them. I stooped down to waterfall from the faucet-style fountain and inhaled water down the wrong tube. I sputtered it out, and started choking. Still in the world of my ipod, I just pretended like it wasn’t even happening. So I’m sure they weren’t laughing at me as I coolly walked away, choking all the while.

After I regained my composure, I kept running for as long as I could. The illuminated Parthenon majestically loomed in the background and the sliver of a moon provided just enough light to make out oncoming joggers. The beauty of the night sky, the significance of the track on which I ran, and the friendly Greek competition propelled me forward for one of my longest runs ever. My Greek competitors and I got a good workout tonight for sure. But, I knew who the real winner was as I limped home, and Grandpa George began a set of pushups. 

College Year in Athens student, Mary Shiraef, is a Political Science major at Emory University.