The suspense is building for the Boston Marathon, which comes next Monday. Who will take the prize this year? While we wait for the big race it’s worth remembering the 1946 winner, Stylianos Kyriakides of Greece, where the idea of the marathon originated.
For his run was more than about making it over Heartbreak Hill and onto victory. His mission was to bring attention to famine and suffering in his homeland.
During World War II the German Army left Greece practically in ruins and short on food. Aid was desperately needed.
April 1946 was a pivotal time in world history; hunger then was the World War II enemy that had yet to be defeated. President Harry Truman sent Herbert Hoover on a worldwide mission to fight famine, including a visit to Greece.
Truman even delivered a national address on food conservation the night before the race, stating, “we cannot ignore the cry of hungry children. Surely we will not turn our backs on the millions of human beings begging for just a crust of bread. The warm heart of America will respond to the greatest threat of mass starvation in the history of mankind.”
For Kyriakides, the Boston Marathon offered an opportunity to shine the spotlight on the hunger in his homeland. He faced a tough challenge.
Schoolchildren from Asprangeli, Greece enjoy a mid-day meal, with food provided by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration after World War II. (Harry S. Truman Library)
There was the defending champion Johnny Kelley and other great runners to contend with. Kyriakides also had to overcome years of living in the harsh occupation conditions with below-average nutrition. His life had been spared by German troops because he was a marathoner and had competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Kyriakides overcame the odds, overcame the great Johnny Kelley, and sprinted to victory in the marathon. When he crossed the finish line he shouted “For Greece!” for he knew what this victory would mean in telling the world of his country’s plight. His mission was not over even after he crossed the finish line, though. Next was touring the country to raise donations for Greek relief.
As this Boston Marathon fast approaches we must remember that famine conditions have not left the world, even long after World War II. There are 870 million people worldwide who suffer from hunger. There are wars in Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Mali and other areas where severe hunger has taken hold. Children die each day from malnutrition and others are stunted in growth forever. Many infants can be saved by a 33-cent package of Plumpy’Nut, a nutrient-rich peanut paste produced by Providence-based Edesia.
Millions of school-age children in these countries struggle to get one meal a day. If they could receive food at school they might have a chance at a future. It costs about 25 cents for the World Food Program to provide them a school meal each day. Yet, it is difficult to get funding for hunger relief. There are so many instances of food aid programs being reduced or even cut because not enough donations come in from around the world. In Haiti, for instance, school meals are considered the cornerstone of the country’s reconstruction, a helping hand to unlock the potential in the country.
Many years have passed since Kyriakides accomplished what might be called one of the first Charity Mile runs. His legacy can continue. There is a way runners, as well as walkers and bikers, can make an impact on this struggle against hunger.