George Tchakanakis set a goal for himself back in 2008. Now, almost 8 years later, he’s on his way to accomplishing it, and he’s not stopping there.
Meet George Tchakanakis
George Tchakankis, 48, is a first generation Greek-American, born and raised in Aurora IL. He traces his Greek roots to Tripolis and the surrounding area. He now resides in Chicago, IL, with his wife and son. He worked in the hospitality industry, prior to becoming the full-time caregiver to his son.
When he’s not training for a marathon, of course.
Even when he is in training, he brings his son with him in a high-quality jogging stroller. His daily runs range anywhere between 4-20 miles. At 9 months old, his son has already logged in a total of 138 miles with his daddy.
George wasn’t always a runner or even into working out. He didn’t play any sports.
So how did he become interested in running?
In his late twenties George found himself struggling to find his purpose in life and was in the midst of a deep depression.
“I was just not a very happy person.”
Not sure where he was going in life and struggling with the every day, he had the inclination to purchase a bike from at a nearby bike shop, in attempt to start biking. Unfortunately, buying the bike was not enough to motivate him to actually start using it, though he did bring it in for free regular tune- ups. After one of those tune-ups, on the way out, he took a few minutes to view a stack of flyers in the bike shop’s doorway.
One flyer caught his attention — and would eventually change his life.
The flyer was about an upcoming Ironman Triathlon. George became fascinated with the concept. At that time he had never heard of a triathlon, let alone an Ironman Competition.
George recalls dwelling on the flyer for quite some time.
Even though he was in the midst of a deep depression, he knew deep down, he needed to do something to help himself get out of it. At that moment in time, while reading the flyer, it hit him; training for an Ironman competition was the answer he was seeking.
“Call it divine intervention or serendipity, I knew at that moment that training for competition was the solution for my depression and the way to help pull myself out of it.”
His intuition and realization were spot on.
Born to run
George immediately began biking regularly. Training included running. In that first year, he began participated in several 5k and 10k races.
“That was the year where everyone who knew me started saying things like ‘ksipnisai o Giorgos’ — ‘George finally woke up’. Running gave me a sense of belonging and fellow camaraderie; I felt alive. As soon as I started the practice of running my depression vanished, immediately; gone forever. Running was the green light I needed to move forward with my life. I knew I was born to run.”
George ran his first marathon in Chicago, back in October of 2000 and as he was training for it, a poem started to flow through his in response to his depression leaving him:
When I run I am happy
When I run I see
When I run I am free
When I run I am me
His mantra then became: “I love running and running loves me.” Winning the race is not his goal; finishing the race is what counts as a win to him.
“I absolutely LOVED the way I felt once I crossed the finish line. When I cross the finish line, I feel and act like an Olympian.”
He ran several more marathons, in Wisconsin, New York, and Michigan, and was caught the “marathon bug. Then George met a co-worker who was also a dedicated runner, who introduced him to the concept of running 50 marathons in 50 states. He explored and discovered the 50 State Marathon Club; a club consisting of individuals who have run, just like the title says, 50 marathons in 50 states.
“I was hooked. At that point I knew that that was going to be my long-term goal.”
George attributes his early commitment to training to then-role model Lance Armstrong. He was deeply influenced by a by ultramarathon man and bestselling author Dean Karnazes and his bestselling book 50 Marathons in 50 States in 50 Days.
“His book changed my life. While I knew logistically I couldn’t do 50 marathons in 50 days, I decided to adjust my goal to 50 marathons in 50 states by the age of 50.”
Another source of inspiration if Greek-Australian runner Yiannis Kouros, who holds many world records.
The synchronicity of running his first marathons, befriending a fellow runner/co-worker, and discovering his role models, set the stage for the beginning of George’s life-changing journey.
“It’s been 17 years and a journey I’m still enjoying it.”
A life-changing journey
George’s journey is one that has positively affected all areas of his life. He met his wife through running. His closest friends are runners. Training over the years has also strengthened his dedication, discipline, and focus; qualities highly valued by him and fostered by running.
George will turn 50 in 2017, however, he’ll hit his 50th state milestone this year April 30, at the St. Jude Rock ‘n Roll Marathon Nashville. He will then have completed his goal. Todate, he’s run a total of 76 marathons in 49 states and Nashville’s run will be his 77th. He’s also run many regional and ultra-marathons, as well. Since 1999, George has run a total of 16,789 miles — enough to run to Greece and back, and to Greece again.
“I always tell people my chronological age is 48 but my athletic age 26.2. “
His next goal is to become a member of the Marathon Globe Trotter club. Members have completed at least 10 Marathons in 10 countries. George already checked US and Canada off his list. Next, he’d like to run in both the Athens and Dublin City (Ireland) marathons. There are also two ultra-marathons that are inside of on his bucket list — Badwater 135, and Spartathlon: A grueling 246 kilometer (153 miles) footrace held annually from Athens to Sparta.
“My goal is to knock out those two countries by the end of 2017. And the other two “ultra-marathons have been on my list when all this started in 2001.”
While George obviously seems to have been born to run, he may very well have missed his passion and purpose in life, and all the blessings that came with it. One flyer in a bike shop changed everything.