Over 100 runners, cyclists and one swimmer participated in the third Penny Marathon on Sunday, 13 July 2014 in both Sydney and Athens. Among them was seven-year old animal lover Petros Markantonis from Greece and 70-year-old Theodosia Prodromou from Australia who ran to show their support for the cause and for the need to put an end to animal abuse.
A hotel owner in Cyprus recently told two of her employees to dispose of a stray poodle that had been wandering the grounds in search of food. They complied by throwing the dog into a cardboard crushing machine. If it weren’t for some tourists nearby who heard the dog’s screams and came to its rescue, the story of Billy would have gone unnoticed. Billy fought hard for his life but died a few days later.
“This is the reality that stray animals face in countries like Cyprus and Greece,” says runner John Spinoulas, who manages the Penny Marathon in Athens with animal rescuer Chrisanthy Efstathiou. “Only a few days ago, a restaurant owner in Evia, Greece, lured a three-month-old pup into his restaurant with food in order to club it to death with a chair. Little Maggie was later euthanised because of irreversible brain damage.”
“This is what compels people to participate in our event. They want to take a stand and this is a unique yet effective way to build solidarity among others who feel the same way, raise awareness and address this brutality and the apathy that exists in the community at large,” adds John.
The Penny Marathon – named after a stray animal in Greece whose life was tragically cut short – started in 2012 when three runners ran the original 42-kilometre route from Marathon to Athens as a way to get friends and family to donate money. When word spread over the internet, the idea soon took hold that this should be an annual event in more countries around the world. Australia joined in 2013, and now New Zealand, Bulgaria and other cities in Greece have expressed interest in staging a PM in 2015.
“When it comes to people that want to participate, there is no standard for the Penny Marathon; that’s what makes it special,” says John. “There are people of all ages, experienced runners and cyclists or with little experience at all, but all with a love for animals, sports and volunteering in common. The reason they do this is to raise awareness of the problem facing Greece’s stray animals in order to establish a strong animal-friendly culture for future generations.”
This year, in addition to runners and cyclists, Corfu’s long-distance swimmer Nicole Tryfona joined the team. “It is an event that takes place to help stray animals, and that’s the same reason I undertake every swimming race; so I said yes without second thought!” Nicole swam for 5.5 hours non-stop from Alimos to Vouliagmeni beach, when she was met at the water’s edge by cheers and applause from the runners and cyclists who had just completed their 42-kilometre route.
“The experience was very special,” adds Nicole. “Every moment was unique. The fact that we had difficult weather conditions made it all the more special, even if the distance we had to cover was relatively short (17 kilometres). There are no words to describe the emotion that I felt at the warm reception I received from the supporters at the end. It was a moment that will stay etched in my memory forever.”
And it’s not just people. Former stray dogs are among the participants. This year, Marko and Bowie ran their second Penny Marathon alongside their owners, and were joined by more four-legged runners.
“The Penny Marathon in Greece this year was very successful, and I say that with certainty because of what I saw at the end, in particular. There was this optimistic spirit, with people everywhere, smiling and happy – despite the difficult conditions of the heat – and with former stray animals with their proud owners in the crowd; all with positive comments and a positive outlook. It was priceless.”