The Water Carrier

He’d been running for an hour and a half; through the dirt and rocks and clouds of biting flies; across creeks and up hills. Crowds blocking his dusty track often delayed him and more than once he leapt the writhing bodies of fallen men. His throat parched and his legs cramping, he entered the town of Pikermi. A small inn by the roadside caught his eye and he ran straight into its open door.

An old woman was there to greet him with oranges in her hand and escorted him to a soft chair by the window. He kept a close eye on the events taking place outside and savored every pulpy gulp during his short respite. He rose to continue his run but a gentleman, smelling faintly of musk, stepped in front of him and blocked his way. He was holding a glass.

“Take this, son, and the gods will carry you to Athens.”

He swallowed it in one long draw and warmth spread out from his navel until it reached the tips of his toes. He was off again and he could hear the shouts of “Hellene!” behind him as he followed the road out of town.

When he reached Athens, he was greeted by royalty in celebration of Greece’s victory over the world. The King offered to grant him whatever he asked for. He asked for a new donkey cart to carry his water when he returned home.

Spyridon Louis’ time of 2:58:50 in the first Olympic marathon in 1896 wasn’t spectacular by today’s standards. It didn’t even hold up when two extra miles were added to the marathon on May 27, 1921. What makes it truly incredible is when you take into account the other stops Spyridon made along the way for beer, milk, and eggs.

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