Stelios Prassas, 90-year-old marathon runner: Clear skies excite me, not fancy restaurants!
Most people left behind their birthplaces, crops, their villages and moved to the large cities, mainly Athens in Greece. With the evolution of technology, each kid now wants to study, and the whole world is moving towards strict education. But we are not eternal, and we should all have a job that pleases us, Stelios Prassas says.
Born in the thirties in Athens, growing up in Greece occupied by Nazis, famine, and poverty, life fed Stelios Prassas “bread with seven crusts”. But he doesn’t give in! The absolute star of the 2021 Athens Marathon, the 90-year-old Prassas used to practice soccer barefoot since he was ten, on dirt, in the fields just around the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Even though his hometown changed dramatically since he made his first steps, Stelios keeps nothing but a positive outlook on things, radiates love for all people, known or unknown, and passionately advocates living life to the fullest in each breathing moment. Besides sports, he’s devoted to his grandchildren and family with whom he runs a small jack-of-all-trades shop in Vyronas.
At the finish line of this year’s marathon in the capital of Greece, he praised nature, clear skies, and high spirits. We immediately recognized that Mr. Stelios’ wisdom and strength of the Olympian Titan, entwine naturally with the entire euPolis philosophy. Thanks to the kind help of SEGAS we got in touch with this hero.
Learning that the initial call for an interview came from Serbia, Stelios cheerfully “marks the territory”: Oh, I’ve been there, I’ve run a marathon!”
In which and how many places have you run a marathon?
Slovenia, Croatia, Albania, Constantinople, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ismir, Munich, Australia, Buffalo, Newcastle, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Madrid, Rome, Seychelles, Thailand, Toronto…We have traveled because we were (10 years ago) members of the Athens Health Runners Association, and we traveled for runs throughout the world, both for marathons and smaller distances. And we continue, we do not stop of course, as I am only 90 years old at the moment, I still have a lot of time, the future is ahead of me!
First of all, congratulations on your result, but above all, impressive persistence and willpower!
Please do not congratulate me, as the result was not what I hoped it’d be… I did not make the time I expected as I made a mistake. But if you call SEGAS (Hellenic Amateur Athletic Association), they can tell you about the times I achieved during the previous, much better years. This time it took a bit longer but I enjoyed it, and I will keep on. I’m not stopping.
What motivates you, year after year, city after city, to conquer all those kilometers?
It is a really nice hobby. There is nothing to separate you from the other athletes. You just make use of the health you have. I perform checkups two times a year, and as soon as I get the green light, I take part in these runs. It’s been like this for 30 years now. The Greek marathon is the most beautiful of all the countries I have run, even though each country does have its unique beauty. I prefer the Greek one because you do not run next to skyscrapers or apartment buildings.
You must have made many sacrifices to be able to achieve this?
I’ve been running since I was 10, barefoot, when the German Nazis occupied Greece in 1941. I was born near the Temple of Olympian Zeus and we made it through these difficult times, during which we continuously exercised. By the time I was 59, I enjoyed playing soccer and then started running. Of course, the stadiums then had no grass, just the soil, so it was much more difficult.
Photo credits: courtesy of SEGAS
During the past 30 years, do you have any special habits that help you with your runs?
No, I am just enjoying each day that dawns, I am happy to have my hobby, I must keep doing it because athleticism is the thing that makes me fulfilled every day. I like to move all day.
Knowing that the euPOLIS project aims to improve the health and wellbeing of the citizens in urban areas, what do you, as an athlete, notice to be the main health and wellbeing issues for people living in cities?
I am thrilled each day to go out and see nature, the sky, clouds, the mountains, and it makes me full to witness the beauty of this land, as each one of us will go away one day. We are not eternal, and we should enjoy each dawning day. I love nothing more than a plate of food, having my family around, and observing the beauty of this land. I have nothing against any person, and I love each person living on earth, it is the most important thing, and I never had any quarrel with anyone in my whole life.
It seems that new generations will have a hard time finding these natural beauties with all the pollution, overcrowded cities… What do you see as the main issues?
Athens was a really pretty village once! We could walk around and enjoy it. There were some fascinating neighborhoods like Kaisariani, Ilissia Pedia, Agios Artemios, Vouliagmeni, Nea Smirni… And there were no issues between people, just love and respect. We could sleep in our backyards and live a natural life, liberated, like animals. Free, like horses or donkeys.
But now, there are some real problems compared to 20-30 years ago. For example, I run the 21km run around Athens each year besides the marathon. This year was significantly more difficult. The very atmosphere made it much harder. The 21km run was more taxing on me than the actual marathon because of the pollution. I could not breathe clearly. I can’t believe Athens has come to this! We used to visit Acropolis and train under the famous rock, where now all the cafes and restaurants are. We people now destroy the beautiful nature that we used to have. I think that technology evolution has these kinds of outcomes, unfortunately.
Do you think all these cities provide an equal feeling of safety, belonging, and respect to all citizens?
We will face much more issues as time passes, I am afraid. I am not educated, you know, I didn’t even make it through elementary school because of the German Nazis occupation in Greece in the early 40s. We just got a certificate at some time that we had some basic education.
But things were not always like that – in your opinion, what brought us here, what made cities such hostile, unhealthy places?
Most people left behind their birthplaces, crops, their villages and moved to the large cities, mainly Athens in Greece. With the evolution of technology, each kid now wants to study, and the whole world is moving towards strict education. But we are not eternal, and we should all have a job that pleases us.
Do you believe we can bring nature back to the cities, and do you believe that the joint will of citizens could turn around the decision-making process so that needs of citizens are reflected in their cities?
Of course, I do. A person can try to enjoy their life as time passes by. I cannot believe I am 90 years old. The years passed like the water which is flowing.
And what do you enjoy in these cities, what do you do when you are not in training?
I couldn’t care less about the nice shops or restaurants. I have been in so many countries that none of that moves me anymore. I enjoy long walks by the sea, for example, walking 10-15km in Nea Makri by the sea. That is what makes me happy. I also used to swim with my son until he was 15, now he is 46.