Burlingame woman runs original Greece marathon to honor mother

By Kristina Hodge, RN

Mariana Pappageorge’s had been dreaming of running a marathon for 15 years. Even after her mother Kathy’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis 10 years ago, the dream continued. When the opportunity came to run in the Athens Marathon, she decided to use this as a way to raise money for Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Both of Mariana’s parents are of Greek decent, which made this marathon extra special. With hard work, a positive attitude and a commitment to the cause, Mariana honored her mother, her ancestry and all of those impacted by Alzheimer’s disease.

Mariana, her mother with Alzheimer's and their family at the late
Mariana (left) and Kathy (second from right) with their family

Close-knit family

Mariana and her family are very close knit. Growing up in Burlingame, Mariana lived with her parents and brother. She describes her mom, Kathy, as “A spitfire, who loved to do yoga, loved to cook and ran the household.” Mariana’s mom and dad loved to travel, spend time with family and golf. Mariana recalls, “Mom was just a very genuine family person and loved to be around people.”

Currently, Mariana is a flight attendant and says she got her travel bug from her mom. One of her favorite memories occurred right before Kathy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Mariana recalls, “My mom crashed my layover. It was on my birthday, we went out to dinner, walked around the city and just kind of did our own thing.”

Even though Kathy’s cognitive abilities have declined, special memories are still being made. Mariana’s brother got married last December, it was a small ceremony in a Greek church and Mariana said her mom looked amazing and was smiling the whole time. Mariana added, “She still smiles and rolls her eyes at me- she’s still there.”

Early signs

Kathy was just 57 years old when she was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s. As a lawyer, Kathy had always been very knowledgeable, but Mariana and her family began to notice she was having trouble finishing sentences and finding the words she wanted to say.

In the early stages of the disease, Kathy was still somewhat self-sufficient but as the disease progressed, she grew to need full-time care, requiring someone to be at the house with her 24/7. Kathy’s journey with Alzheimer’s disease inspired the family’s involvement with the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s®.

About Walk

Funds raised for Walk to End Alzheimer’s, the world’s largest fundraiser for Alzheimer’s care, support and research, fuel the mission of the Association. This inspiring event calls on participants of all ages and abilities to join the fight against the disease.

Mariana, her family and close friends have participated in Walk to End Alzheimer’s-San Francisco for several years. The family was originally introduced to Walk by neighbors who had been participating in the event in support of their own loved one living with Alzheimer’s disease.

In the summer of 2023 Mariana signed up for the Athens Marathon and began making plans to fundraise for the November 2023 Walk. Mariana’s fundraising goal was $10,000. She had the idea, “Let’s go all out this year, I’m going to run the marathon. Let’s combine the two, the Walk and the marathon [to raise the funds].”

Mariana finishes the Greek Marathon in Athens in honor of her mother living with Alzhiemer's
Mariana at the Greek Marathon

Time to run

Coming from an athletic family, Mariana has always been a competitor. She had never run a marathon before. She trained for 2.5 months and stayed committed to the process no matter how difficult it was. It helped her realize what she was capable of and where that strength came from. Mariana reflected, “It shows how strong I am. I know I got that strength from my mom.”

Mariana stated that running the original Greek marathon was an emotional experience. It was her first marathon, and she was running it in the footsteps of her ancestors. The finish line of the marathon was at the original Olympic Stadium. This held a special meaning for Mariana because of her father. Mariana explained, “My dad played professional basketball in Greece and he played at the old Olympic Stadium.”

Being an avid competitor, Mariana researched what the average finish time was for a women marathon runner; it was four hours and 48 minutes and she was determined to beat it. The course was difficult, long and full of hills. She thought of her mom the whole time and knew she would have been there if she could have. Anytime she started feeling like she couldn’t finish, Mariana told herself “What’s 10 more minutes? What’s 10 more minutes when mom has been fighting Alzheimer’s for 10 years.” 

In the end, Mariana beat the average time and finished the marathon in four hours and 44 minutes.

Team 650 at Walk to End Alzheimer's
Team 650 at Walk to End Alzheimer’s San Francisco

Team 650 reaches their fundraising goal

While she was training, Mariana, her family and friends used word of mouth, social media, emails, and texting to fundraise. Mariana’s Walk team, Team 650, wore shirts specifically designed to represent both the marathon and Walk. The shirts had the marathon logo as well as the color purple in support of Walk.

Altogether Mariana and Team 650’s fundraising efforts raised more than $12,000 in support of the Association’s mission.

Mariana said Walk is always a social event, full of positivity, food and laughter. She expressed how she was able to translate that positivity into her marathon, “While I was running, I was thinking about all the people who supported me in this process and my mom and my family.”

Moving forward

Mariana said the marathon is probably a one and done but she will continue to participate in Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Her favorite part of Walk day is seeing everyone come together and create awareness. “People are becoming more aware of [the disease], it shows how many people in the world are dealing with it.”

Mariana expressed that Walk brings people together who have been affected by Alzheimer’s disease. It is an event where people who may be grieving can smile and laugh and feel happiness in the support of others. Mariana shared, “That’s what I think the Walk is for and represents. It’s a time for people to be there for each other and hopefully someday find a cure.”

You can join Team 650 or create your own for the October 19, 2024 walk at alz.org/sanfranciscowalk. Not in San Francisco? Check out our other Walk locations at alz.org/walk. For more information on how to be a star fundraiser check out Fundraising for Walk to End Alzheimer’s on our website.

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