NEWS

A Greek Canadian with a timely vision for his parents’ homeland is sponsoring the 12-man Hellas Everest mission

The mission has been made possible by a Greek Canadian with a vision of helping Greeks achieve a dream and who is willing to invest the money and time. Other Greek teams have made the attempt but have either not had the resources or the luck to make it to the 8,848-meter summit. The only Greek to have conquered Everest so far is Constantine Niarchos (son of the late shipowner) on May 13, 1999, climbing with a foreign team as a Swiss citizen. (Later that same year, he died in London.) The Hellas Everest team now preparing to head for the top of Everest was formed as a result of a chance conversation. «It all started over dinner last June when a 9-year-old boy asked (friend and team member) Spyros Soulis if he had ever climbed Everest,» said Pavlos Aggelatos, who is sponsoring the team. «Spyros replied that he hadn’t and that although attempts had been made, no Greek teams had got to the summit, mainly due to a lack of resources.» «That sparked off something inside me. I had a friend with a personal goal, and a country which I had grown to love and respect, so the combination of the two was a natural calling,» said Aggelatos, who spoke to Kathimerini English Edition before leaving for the Himalayas. «Spyros told me there was a team ready and waiting. I met with them, we clicked right away and I decided to sponsor them,» said Aggelatos, who explained his motivation as a desire to «give something back.» His father hails from Cephalonia, an island he has been visiting for years, but his love of his parents’ homeland goes deeper than holidays – he also did six months’ military service here, although he could have been exempted. «I was taught by my parents to love Greece and be proud of my heritage. There was a certain responsibility to give something back, but it also coincided with my vision, which is to keep Greek people both outside and inside Greece united. So for me, it was a bridge connecting them, particularly in this special year for Athens.» This vision is also reflected in Aggelatos’s media and publishing business. «I also publish Greek children’s books for that reason – I don’t want the Greek language to disappear. Greek people who live abroad need the chance to keep in touch with their language, culture, history.» He himself is not a mountaineer, and is staying in the base camps, providing backup support to the Everest team. «The only mountains I have climbed are in Cephalonia. But my passion came not so much for the mountains but more for a feeling to give Greece the coverage I feel it deserves in this year 2004.» Aggelatos has spent much of the past year with the Everest team, accompanying them on their training climbs. «I have bonded with the members and feel that I am part of the team, being involved so much on an organizational level, making sure they are healthy and fit.» He has also enlisted the help of third-generation Greek-American mountaineer Pete Athans (Petros Athanassopoulos), who has made it to the peak of Everest seven times, more than any other Westerner. «Now 44, he retired two years ago from mountaineering, but he is on board with the group as their mentor and consultant, all the way to the summit.» Aggelatos will be going to the base camp on the south side, which is at 5,300 meters and a five-day trek from the nearest airport at Lukla, and also visiting the north side in Tibet, where the base camp is accessible by four-wheel drive vehicle. «I will be giving them support, motivation, providing whatever I can at base camp level, sharing information with other expeditions, helping each other out.» Coverage for Greece Aggelatos says the fact that the climb is being made on the eve of the Athens Olympics is important. «The Olympics are a great event to be part of. I think there has been a lot of criticism (of Athens), some of which should be taken as constructive, but I believe that if you do work round the clock then you will be ready. But you have to take the criticism with a grain of salt. Sometimes people tend to judge rather than to try and understand the mentality. Sometimes they should look for the reasons behind what is happening.» As for his experience in the Greek military (where, incidentally, he met Spyros, who is from Melbourne), Aggelatos says: «A lot of people here in Greece have asked me (why do this). When I speak to Greek people abroad they don’t ask why, they understand the passion of wanting to give something back. This is the opportunity. What I want is to advertise Greece.» Pressed as to what he himself hopes to gain, he said: «Strange as it may sound, it makes me feel more accomplished. It is a challenging goal, difficult to organize. I believe that in success shared as team, everyone has a role. I have the responsibility of making sure the team is safe. If we summit, it will be a bonus – the goal is not to summit, but to be safe, and to be friends when we come back. The rest will follow. «For Greece it will be the advertising, it needs to have to be on the map for future expeditions. If Greeks successfully and safely climb Everest, it will open doors for other sponsors on other mountains. «I feel the team is the heart and soul of this. They feel very proud to be Greek, they are taking the Greek and the Olympic flags with them. I’d like to thank these people, they represent our country magnificently.»