Greek American Cancer Survivor Conquers World’s Oldest Marathon

[L-R] Mike Manatos and Jimmy Pantelidis crossing the Boston Marathon finish line in the same jersey worn by 1946 Boston Marathon champion Stylianos Kyriakides
By Stacy Dimakakos

When Jimmy Pantelidis was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in February of last year, he handled it as he does most other challenges in his life: full-on. Not only did he vow to beat cancer…he vowed to run the following year the world’s oldest and best-known marathon – the Boston Marathon.

 

Yesterday, he did just that. And he did so just 4 months after his last chemo treatment and a cancer-free diagnosis, and just months shy of his 65th birthday. It was the 15th marathon for the man affectionately known as the “marathon man.”

In what many called the worst weather in the 122 year history of the race — wind chill of 26 degrees, hard rain the entire race and headwinds gusting to 35 miles per hour (more than 2,500 runners received medical treatment) — Jimmy Pantelidis and his running mate Mike Manatos completed the Boston Marathon. Over 30,000 amateur and professional runners from all over the world compete in the Boston Marathon each year, braving the hilly Massachusetts terrain and varying weather, and the event attracts over 500,000 spectators, making it New England’s most widely viewed sporting event.

Jimmy and Mike drew inspiration from several historic, heroic Greek marathoners: the first marathoner, Pheidippides (in 490 BC); the first Olympic marathon champion, Spyridon Louis (in 1896) – the Boston Marathon was inspired by this first marathon and began the year after (in 1897); and most directly by the winner of the 1946 Boston Marathon Stylianos Kyriakides.

Kyrikides’ story is legendary. Narrowly escaping execution in Greece during WWII, and watching his fellow Greeks die of starvation in the civil war that followed, Kyriakides vowed to go to Boston and win the Boston Marathon to help save the people of Greece. Although he hadn’t run in 6 years and had to sell his furniture to buy a ticket to the US, he arrived at the starting line in 1946. He was so emaciated that minutes before the race started, race officials told him he could not run because he would die on the streets of Boston. Greek-Americans with him convinced officials to let him run. During the race, he worked his way to the front of the pack until he was tied with one of the Boston Marathon’s greatest champions, Johnny Kelly. When a Greek-American from the crowd showed, “for Greece, for your children!” Kyriakides took off and won the race in world record time. As he crossed the finish line he shouted, “FOR GREECE!”

Kyriakides spent the next month traveling around the United States collecting funds and food for the starving people of Greece. When he returned home with $250,000 (a remarkable sum in 1946) and tons of food and supplies, over one million Greeks lined the streets to welcome home their hero.

Mike and Jimmy with the grandchildren of Stylianos Kyriakides, Maria and George Contos, and the golden wreaths flown in from Greece to crown the winners of the Boston Marathon

Jimmy and Mike were thrilled to meet in Boston, just days before the race, the grandchildren of Kyriakides – Maria Contos and George Contos. Together they watched the presentation of the golden olive wreaths, flown in from Marathon, Greece, to the head of the Boston Marathon in the Massachusetts State Hall at an event hosted by the Alpha Omega organization in Boston. Each year since 1984, these wreaths crown the male and female winners of the Boston Marathon. They also met at this event Nick Tsiotis, the author “Running with Pheidippides: Stylianos Kyriakides, the Miracle Marathoner.”

Jimmy and Mike were also presented with a replica of the exact jersey Kyriakies wore when he won the 1946 Boston Marathon, and wore this jersey as they ran Boston.

During the race yesterday, Jimmy and Mike stopped at Mile 1 at the statue erected to Kyriakides (in which he is guided by 1896 Olympic Marathon champion Spyridon Louis), and unfurled the Greek flag. As they crossed the finish line that afternoon, they were wearing their rain-soaked Kyriakides jerseys, clutching the Greek flag together, and shouted, “FOR GREECE!”

In November of last year, Jimmy’s daughter Marianna ran the New York City Marathon to honor her father and to raise funds for Project Purple which works to find a cure to Pancreatic Cancer and improve the lives of patients through support, hope and compassion. She raised over $22,000. For the Boston Marathon Jimmy ran and raised for both Project Purple and Cops for Kids with Cancer.

Pantelides, is Co-Founder, along with his brothers George and Peter, of Pan-Brothers Associates, Inc., which offers full Real Estate Development, Management and Brokerage services. He is a long-time member of the Board of Trustees of Leadership 100 and served on the Board of the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Manhattan, New York. He and his wife Stella live in Manhattan with their three children, Carli (24), Marianna (22) and Nicholas (18).