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Argyris Papathanasopoulos raised the greek flag in North Pole
The greek champion talks to NEO about his remarkable experience
By Kelly Fanarioti
It began as an almost irrational thought, but over time it became a challenge as demanding as few things in life. Extreme weather conditions with near-prohibitive temperatures (-30 degrees) and demanding distance, are inherently causes that would make most of us turn side on our comfortable cough.
But this was not the case of Argyris Papathanassopoulos, the doctor who aimed not only to participate but also to win the Marathon in the inhospitable place of the North Pole and eventually did it filling with pride the Greeks in all over the world. The orthopedic surgeon in the profession, who lives permanently in England, ran 42 kilometers and 195 meters of distance in 4 hours, 34 minutes and 36 seconds leaving almost half an hour behind the second runner.
Moment of ecstasy
The Marathon took place at Camp Barneo, known as North Pole Camp, which is located 49 kilometres from the top of the world and the photos of the finish line with Argyris kneeling by holding in his hands the greek flag having at the same time his face covered with ice, made the round of the world. As he says to NEO, this was a moment of absolute ecstasy for him and despite the fact that in the past he had run under extreme weather conditions, such as in the Sahara and Death Valley in 50 degrees Celsius, this time he broke down crying.
“I was kneeling and tearing up because I first met with polar temperatures for four consecutive hours without water or food. The cold was indescribable. Unfortunately, a journalist came with a camera and broke all this ecstasy. At that moment I wanted to be alone and experience what I was able to do. However, I felt awe because I ran to the top of the world. Then I went to change my clothes because all my body was filled with ice”.
Once he entered his sleeping bag, he realized what he has achieved and he was crying for the whole night. “I could not sleep, I was thinking how powerful the emotion was and the film was playing in my mind: how did I reach the North Pole, how many years I had dreamed of it, what I finally did”.
And he did not exaggerate as he has gone through many difficulties before reaching the North Pole. He was going to participate in the Marathon last year but a foot injury did not allow him. This year, the Marathon took an extension for ten days and Argyris has to cancel his hospital ”on- calls”. “Everything went wrong, and because I’m a little preemptive, I thought if something went wrong one more time, then I would not go to the Marathon”, he adds.
As he claims, the conditions were extremely harsh as his face was exposed to ice for so long. “I could not put a mask because it was blurred by my breath. At some point, ice cubes formed in my eyelashes, eyebrows and mums because of sweating. It was very difficult to run like that. I have to get it out of my mind in order to go on and that’s what I did. But in the end I started to go crazy, it was bothering me too much, but I was saying from within: “It’s enough, I finish, I finish, I win.”
“There are no limits to human will”
In addition to the exciting minutes of the finish line, engravings will remain in his mind and the life lessons he took from this Μarathon, where he saw people with objective difficulties overcoming themselves. “I ran with a man who had a prosthetic member and who did not stop for 14 hours. Also, a 77-year-old man, despite his advanced age, ran for 11 hours to finish. But what shocked me the most was a blind gentleman who, with the help of his companion, ran into the ice trying at the same time to balance. Ι was thrilled and I realized there is no limit to the human will”, he says with pathos.
However, it is worth noting that it is an extremely expensive sport that costs several thousand euros. His participation in that Marathon costed more than 20,000 euros, but he admits that it was worth it. “Until the race was over, I was wondering if it was worth the trouble to come here. Now it was not only worth it but I would honestly do it again”.
Argyris started running from the age of 14 and from 2006 he stuck the “microbe” of extreme Μarathons that made him searching for what is most extreme to experience.
A special one was what he experienced in Mexico when he ran with a small tribe of indigenous people known as the Tarahumara. They call themselves Rarámuri, loosely translated as “running people,” “foot-runner,” “swift of foot,” or “he who walks well” and they are considered the best runners in the world as they cover daily 30 km for food and water.
“This Marathon was conducted in a very distant and isolated place, where the closest part of the culture is at 250 km. It’s a terribly remote place, and for that reason there are crops of cannabis and cocaine, which the natives give to the mafia. Two days before the start of the Marathon, members of the mafia killed five natives and as a result the whole government army came from New Mexico. After several tensions and controversies among the athletes on whether or not to run, we finally did it. So we run on a distance full of patrols and under the fear of a new hit by the mafia. It was something unforgettable”.
After his spectacular victory in the North Pole Marathon his facebook page was flooded with messages from people of all ages who did not stop congratulating him for his success. “People told me that I made them proud and they really made me feeling that. I am very pleased with all these messages because I see that, despite the difficulties of the country, Greeks remains proud and still believe in their country.”
Having run all over the world, from Oceania and Africa to South America, Asia and Europe, Argyris’ next goal is the South Pole.