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Runner, 88, sets sights on marathon after losing stomach to cancer

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By Josephine Joly  & Giannis Giaginis  with AFP
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88-year-old Panagiotis Dousis who took part in the 38th Authentic Athens Marathon race on November 14, 2021.
88-year-old Panagiotis Dousis who took part in the 38th Authentic Athens Marathon race on November 14, 2021.   -   Copyright  Euronews

This octogenarian turned heads in Greece by running a five-kilometre race after having his stomach removed.

Panagiotis Dousis, 88, says he had a gastrectomy after being diagnosed with stomach cancer.

On Sunday, he competed in the race as part of the 38th Athens Marathon. Now he hopes to cover the 42.2-km race himself.

"When I run abroad and people hear my name, like that time when I ran in Belgrade, they say that 'Dousis is the only person on Earth who runs without a stomach'," Dousis told Euronews.

"Doctors come to me, one of them from Canada, and ask me: 'Are you Mr Dousis, the one who had made a total gastrectomy?'.

"He told me that a month ago there was a medical congress and that they talked for one hour about my case.

'Nobody could believe that you are 88 years old, without a stomach, and that you still run in races despite your age,' he said," Dousis added.

Dousis remembers the time seven years ago when he was diagnosed with cancer.

"One morning I went to the doctor and I told him that I didn't feel well. He examined me and diagnosed stomach cancer. He said that I only had three more days to live and must immediately go to Athens," said Dousis, who completed a marathon before he was ill.

"I went to Athens and doctors asked me how old I was. At that time I was 81. They said that it was forbidden to undergo such surgery at my age. 'We will give you chemotherapies and maybe you will live three or four, or maybe five years' they added. I said I would get the surgery or remove the cancer myself and I'll be fine. But then the doctor said to me: 'What you just said will save you because you have courage'."

The 88-year-old had intended to run with his seven-year-old great-grandson Lefteris for this year's race, but the youngster was diagnosed with COVID-19 two days before the marathon and was thus not allowed to compete.

Dousis ran the 5km race in under half an hour, a record for his age.

"My next goal is to take part in races abroad, in the Balkans and then in the European and the World championships. And for the following year, I will train to compete in the marathon, although by then I will be in my 90s," he said.

The Athens Marathon returned on Sunday after a two-year absence caused by COVID-19.

According to legend, the 42km route from Marathon to Athens was first run by Pheidippides, an Athenian messenger who in 490BC dashed to the city to announce victory over the Persians, before dying of exhaustion.

Ran on a four-lane concrete avenue through the urban districts of east Athens, the gruelling race is a challenge for runners as much of it is uphill.