Onnas/Etna, IN to Kankakee, IL
Chicago (IOCC) Although it wasn't quite the home stretch, Day 7 of the "Race to Respond" was a homecoming for two of the five cyclists.
Cousins Alex Mazarakos and Constantine "Dino" Davlantis, who are cycling cross-country to help people who don't have a home, rolled into their hometown of Chicago on Friday, Aug. 9, and received a hero's welcome - along with their three teammates.
The volunteer cyclists are riding 3,500 miles in 25 days to raise awareness and support for the people served by International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC). They began from Keyport, N.J., on Aug. 3 and are almost a third of the way through the ride.
Mazarakos, 27, of Burbank, Ill., and Davlantis, 30, of Oak Lawn, Ill., returned to their home parish, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Oak Lawn, Ill., on Friday for a celebration of IOCC and the "Race to Respond."
The race route passed just south of Chicago on Friday and will continue south through Illinois on Saturday, Aug. 10.
After they arrived, the two cousins and fellow cyclists Michael Tsakalos, Jim Angelus and Konstantin Kanelis rode past the church to the cheers and applause of St. Nicholas parishioners and Orthodox Christians from other parts of Chicago.
"These are all people we've grown up with," a beaming Mazarakos said to a crowd of more than 100 supporters.
The evening's activities included a dinner, talks by the cyclists, a raffle, a presentation on bicycle safety and a video showing.
IOCC board member Donna Haddad Conopeotis praised the cyclists for their efforts to increase awareness of IOCC's humanitarian mission. "They're doing wonderful things for IOCC. Thanks to them, more people are learning about IOCC," she said.
Davlantis said he himself has learned some things about IOCC.
"I'm learning that there's more than Greek Orthodox," he said. "I'm proud to say that I'm Greek Orthodox, but I'm also proud to say that I'm willing to help any person who needs help."
Davlantis said the stops along the race route at other Orthodox parishes is one way to illustrate the pan-Orthodox character of IOCC. "It's nice to know that wherever you go, you can find an Orthodox church and you can find support (for IOCC)," he said.
So far, the cycling team has visited a Serbian Orthodox parish, an Antiochian Orthodox summer camp and parish, a Romanian Orthodox monastery and several Greek Orthodox parishes.
The cousins then presented Ms. Conopeotis with an official "Race to Respond" team jersey.
Friday's event also featured a presentation on bicycle safety by Oak Lawn police officers Dan Olson and Mike Hudziak, who are members of the bike patrol unit.
Otto Faltynek, owner of Otto's Cyclery in Oak Lawn, gave a demonstration on bicycle maintenance and repair.
Faltynek helped the two Chicago riders prepare for the "Race to Respond."