On July 27th, we will all be sitting around the TV, watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games in London. We will all watch, albeit a little bit bored, and listen to Bob Costas wittily describe the opening ceremony. But when the Greek flag will enter the stadium first, then we will all feel a little bit taller, a little bit prouder, a little bit more special. We will look to our American friends in the room and make a comment or two about how proud we are of our ancestors and history.
Behind the flag there will be a couple of dozen of proud athletes who have overcome various challenges to be there; one of them will be one of our own. She could be your sister, your daughter, your friend. Tina Kefalas will enter the Olympic Stadium wearing the Greek colors and her sparkling smile, as a representative of all Greek-Americans. Tina, born and raised in San Francisco, grew up like all of us–church every Sunday, Greek school (despite her complaints), and Greek dancing. She studied and worked hard to be accepted to USC and then life’s circumstances brought her back to Greece to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a world-class athlete and competing on the world stage. Tina represents all of us who have a dream, pursue it with all our heart, fail, and try even harder to attain in. Life’s setbacks, injuries, and obstacles make us stronger. We set goals, we focus, and eventually we achieve them. Tina eventually reached her goal to compete in the Olympics in its most representative event–the Marathon.
But now, Tina needs our support. Mostly she needs the emotional support that comes from the positive force that thousands of Greek-Americans can give her, just thinking about her in our prayers and sending her positive energy, knowing that for her part she is making us proud. But she also needs financial support. Tina is supposed to get a stipend from the Greek Track Federation and her club team, AEK, but both are nearly bankrupt and her payments are unreliable at best.
To realize her dream she has been relying on her own funds to train for the event. Tina is moving for five weeks to the mountain of Karpenisi to train at high altitude, all expenses paid by her. Her coach, also unpaid, believes she will deliver her peak performance in London. I jokingly asked, “What about sneakers?” He replied, “Yes, we need to buy more, but we have no cash.” Tina has no health insurance coverage–benefits that other world class athletes take for granted. Blood work, massage, MRIs, she has to pay out of her own pocket. “250 Euros for blood work; that’s a lot of money,” she says as she smiles. She is a winner. Tina, like all of us, is a dedicated professional. She will focus despite the hardships, she will work hard every day giving her all, and I am sure she will finish the Olympic marathon race at her personal best record. And on that day, August 5th, as we all eagerly watch her run against the world’s best in the marathon, we will be able proudly to say to our friends: “I know Tina; I helped her buy her running shoes.”
Follow Tina’s training on her blog, spread the world, and help her as much as you can.