By Brianna Smith

“3, 2, 1, go!” My calf muscles tightened and adrenaline rushed through my body as I began to sprint. The soles of my bare feet were set aflame with each stride across the worn asphalt as my friend Katie and I bounded across the 100 foot meter straightaway. As we approached the finish line, my body was rushed with endorphins and I felt like I was flying.  

Me and Katie racing against each other on the track.

If I had told myself one year ago today that I would be in Athens, Greece racing at the Panathenaic Stadium against a new friend who I felt I had known for years, I would have thought I was out of my mind. When I first heard that we would be visiting this historic site, I was excited and intrigued; however, I could not have predicted how surreal it would feel actually being here. As our group of twenty walked up to the opening gate, we were greeted by seven alternating Greece and Olympic flags.

Our Compact Scholars group standing in front of the Panathenaic Stadium.

Behind them, I was captivated by the open oval of marble steps. This most recent renovation of the sporting site occurred in 1896, but has a long history that dates back to the fourth century BC. In this, its most modern version, the stadium has seated thousands of eager Greek spectators. My attention was broken by our trip advisors summoning our group of students over to begin our tour, which was given through a small handheld electronic device that described different parts of the stadium. As I stepped into the stands and hit play, my world transformed from 2019 to 1896. I heard the cheers from the crowd above me roar through the stadium, and a voice that would lead me up the stands to the very top.

View from the top row of the Panathenaic Stadium..

The warmth of the sun engulfed me as my eyes rested on the breathtaking view before me. In the middle of the seats was a track, more narrow than the ones you see today in modern olympics. To the left were the thrones where King Charles I and his wife would sit and cheer for their favorite competitors, and to the right was an entrance to the track in the arena, a lit cave that led to dressing rooms.

Cave that leads into the arena and dressing rooms (white doors on the right).

My gaze shifted back to the center where the starting line of the track would have been. Standing down there at the bottom, I saw myself and two close friends from high school, who were also mentors to me. My experience suddenly changed from one of solely learning to my past, to the place where I could go on even the worst of days and feel better: the track. The longer I peered down at the lines in the oval, the more the track called to me and pulled me into it. The smooth marble was difficult to keep good footing and was very steep, but I carefully made my way down and found myself at the starting line; butterflies flew around in my stomach as I reminisced the excitement before each of my races in high school. Although I was a 14 hour flight away from San Diego, I was home; I was at peace. Hot air filled my lungs as I brought in a deep breath and took in my surroundings, imagining the olympic athletes who had stood in the same place I was so many years before. It amazes me how something from so long ago can still have such a great impact on life today. I marvel at how sport can bring diverse people together. I will forever cherish having had this opportunity to visit a country so rich in culture and history and experience all that it has to offer.