(Above: Athlete Michalis Kousis touches the face of his feared and revered coach, Mihaly Igloi, on his way to winning the 1979 Balkan Games Marathon in 2:21:20 via runningnews.gr)
In many ways, Maria Kousi fits an archetype often seen within the Heartbreakers: a high level scientist between MIT & Harvard who picked up running in her 30s, and now, is dedicated and "addicted" to the sport. She's a genetic scientist whose work "focuses on the dissection of the mechanisms underlying neurological and neurodegenerative disorders" but it's not her genetic work that is the basis for this story. It's actually her personal genetic make up. Raised in Greece in a home with deep roots in athletics, mom a jumper and dad Greece's greatest contemporary marathoner, Maria went other directions in her youth (science, equestrian, basketball). Now though, sparked by her own running journey, she's unlocking the rich history of her dad's storied career as a world class marathoner. Her Dad, Michalis Kousis, was an elite marathon runner and three time Olympian. He also ran the Boston Marathon in 1980 finishing in 4th (2:16:03). Maria received an invitational bib for the 2020 Boston Marathon from the BAA to help her honor the 40th anniversary of this accomplishment but the celebration will have to wait due to COVID-19.
After watching my interview with Jerry Schumacher, Maria was excited to share some insights about her dad's coach who was a highly respected contemporary of Bill Bowerman.
Here's Maria in her own words:
"First of all, I really loved the interview with Jerry Schumacher! I went back and watched it again because I really liked a couple of the messages that came through! My favorite (which I wrote down) is about his first running coach: "He had this unique gift to make the experience of running really enjoyable until I found this enjoyment all by myself. Because running is hard! When you stick with it long enough you find the love for it and stick with the practice, you don't want to miss practice".
This carried so much truth in it. It put in words what I've been feeling by showing up every Tuesday and Thursday and dreaded Saturday morning and also reminded me what my dad was describing when he talked about their practices. My mom always called him crazy because she said that their practices were hard and long and she would always wonder how they were able to still talk and tell jokes while running in the pack. His response was that hanging out with his friends (fellow-athletes that keep sending me pictures of him they find), was all he was looking forward to; the practice was just making things a little harder. But to be honest, everybody says that Igloi's practices were extra hard. I found a piece on the Internet on the topic: Racing Past // Profile: Mihaly Igloi
Eventually, everyone quit Igloi's team at some point because they thought that his practice was harder than it needed to be. My dad stayed with him until he stopped running professionally. His loyalty to Igloi was so deep, he felt he owed him everything. He valued his guidance so much, he would have never left him no matter how hard the practice. Igloi was always telling him that he was seeing a lot of stamina in him, and I think this is why he was able to stay for as long as he did. I am sending you two pictures of the two of them that sum up what I described. The one with Igloi on the sideline while my dad is running, is from the Athens Marathon in 1979 during the Balkan Games, where he eventually won becoming the 1st Greek after 39 years to win the marathon in this event."
Maria goes on to say that she wishes that she could sail through mile 20 with the joy and grace of her dad (featured photo) but doesn't think she'll be "as cool". Blazing your own path and carrying such a legacy from Greece to Harvard/MIT and then from Hopkinton to Boston is pretty damn cool if you ask me. - DF
(Maria after her 1st race ever, a half-marathon in Greece run in honor of her father.)