12/04/2014 04:50 pm ET Updated Feb 03, 2015

Homecoming Greek-Style

My friend and I have a saying, "Sleep is for wimps." But the past several days of travel had really tested my devotion to this oath. Starting in my hometown of San Francisco, I'd flown to Chicago for the marathon, driven to the airport promptly thereafter and boarded a flight to Europe - only to sit idle on the tarmac for the next five hours. Needless to say, the delay caused a missed connection and I spent another glorious five hours pent-up inside an Amsterdam airport lounge. When my flight to Athens finally did depart I hadn't slept in over two days.

It was my first trip to Greece and, being entirely of Greek heritage, I was hoping to arrive in a more refreshed and energetic state. Instead, all I could think about was crawling into my hotel room's bed and passing out. It was late afternoon and the jetlag, sleep deprivation and soreness - from just having run a marathon -- were all taking their toll. Sleep was the only thing on my mind.

Drawing the blinds shut for some darkened slumber, I glanced out the window briefly and what I saw sent shivers down my spine. There, in the background, perched upon a prominent plateau, sat the Acropolis.

Suddenly, everything changed. I no longer wanted sleep. A rush of adrenaline coursed through my system, a miraculous vivacity washing over me like an exploding wave. When a place speaks to you, one must heed the calling. Lacing up my running shoes, I slipped out the door.

The rise up to the Acropolis was steep, yet I did not labor. My legs were no longer heavy with fatigue, but felt remarkably renewed with fresh life. The air was warm, though not too warm, humid, though not too humid. Perfect, really.

The sun was in its final stages of descent below the western horizon as I made my way through the entrance of this majestic edifice. Up to the Parthenon I climbed, head down, panting deeply to catch my breath. Reaching the apex of these hallowed grounds, I turned toward the setting sun, and God spoke to me.

Beams of light shone through the clouds into the heavens above, a full moon was rising over Mount Hymettus on the opposing horizon, I was alone and awash with a powerful sense of providence, as though I had stood here before, as though I was somehow meant to be standing here, now, at the precise moment of time. There was so much emotional upheaval and inner discourse trying to make some logical sense of this pious deja vu. Could it simply be the acute jetlag and sleep deprivation causing these intense sensations? Then, abruptly, it all became crystal clear. An unmistakable conviction serendipitously emerged from the tumult and I knew, with all certainty, the cause of these demonstrative feelings. I had come home.

It's hard to explain what it frees like when you arrive at a place you were always meant to be. One thing is for certain, however. When it happens, you know it.

In my five decades of existence I had never experienced such a profound awakening before. I doubt many people ever feel such a divine sense of destiny, and I am fairly sure that had I not come to Greece I never would have myself, either.

I've now traveled back to Greece on many occasions. It's curious to note that each time I deplane in Athens I'm once again overtaken by this same eerie sense of homecoming. Those feelings are further reinforced by the people of Greece who have embraced me as one of their own - which, I guess, I truthfully am. For my part, I am commitment to do all that I can to help improve the lives of my fellow countrymen, and my involvement in the Navarino Challenge is an effort to do just that.

The Navarino Challenge was conceived to both help bolster the Greek economy and to improve the health and wellbeing of all who participate in this weekend of fitness and sport. Designed for athletes of all ages and abilities, the event was the brainchild of Greek-American Peter Polous and Akis Tsolis, and has the support of prominent Greek businessman, Achilleas Constantakopoulos.

This annual event is going into its third year and participation in the Navarino Challenges continues to grow. Along with running, there are Pilates classes led by professional instructor, Mandy Persakiby, swimming with Olympic & World Champion, Spyros Gianniotis, and Taekwondo instruction by 2-time Olympic Medalist, Alexandros Nikolaidis. We've also added a 5K and kid's run that proved to be wildly popular this year.

It is a tremendous honor to be affiliated with the Navarino Challenge and witness all the good this event does for the Greek economy and for the Greek people. But more than that, it is a supreme delight to watch all the smiling faces crossing that finish line. OPA!

~Dean Karnazes was name by TIME magazine as one of the "Top 100 Most Influential People in the World."

For more about the Navarino Challenge, visit:

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