Not even open heart surgery could keep barber Vasilios Stayeas from continuing his quest to finish marathons in all 50 states.
In February 2010, he had surgery to replace the aortic valve in his heart. Three months later, Stayeas ran the Pike’s Peek 10K in Rockville, then completed the last states on his list of 50, including Oregon, Montana and Hawaii.
Stayeas achieved the goal of the 50 States Marathon Club, whose Web site is www.50statesmarathonclub.com. He also finished his 100th marathon at last year’s Marine Corps Marathon. He has run 102 in all.
Vasilios, known as Bill, snips hair at his Seven Locks Barber Shop in Potomac, which he opened in 1978. Stayeas was 17 when he came to the United States from Greece in 1964. He worked as a barber and attended barber school part time.
Stayeas, 66, has been running for about 19 years.
He has varicose veins and stands all day in the shop, so his doctor suggested he walk for exercise. “He scared me,” Stayeas said. “He said if I don’t start exercising, by the time I’m 60, I won’t be able to walk.”
He started walking two to five miles a day and worked up to running a 10-kilometer, or 6.2-mile, race. And he kept going. Now, it takes him six hours to finish a race, compared with four or five in earlier years.
Stayeas said his first marathon, the Marine Corps in 1994, was easy, as he’d been walking several miles a day for years.
“The day I was going to do the race it was pouring,” Stayeas said. “I went to Grosvenor Metro and thought, ‘What the [heck] am I doing here?’ I got to the stop sign to go home and couldn’t. My wife and friends would say I’m a quitter.”
So Stayeas went back to the Metro station, caught a train and ran four hours and 45 minutes in the rain. But it didn’t bother him.
“After you start going, you warm up,” he said.
His 100th marathon was at the same race in 2012.
Stayeas said he was encouraged to join marathons by his customers. His wife, Terry, schedules his races and their trips.
“The only way to see the country, a little bit everywhere, is to have a goal,” Stayeas said.
Sometimes he runs 13 marathons in one year; other years, he does six. Some of Stayeas’s customers also are runners, such as Trevor Myers. He’s been coming to Seven Locks Barber Shop for more than a decade.
“It’s a very friendly place,” Myers said. “Bill greets you by name.”
Stayeas said he enjoys interacting with people on the job. Customers call him “Bill the Barber.”
Myers, a physician at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington County, learned they both were runners when he saw a picture in the barbershop of Stayeas finishing a race. Myers runs with the Montgomery County Road Runners Club.
“I’ve only done 19 marathons,” Myers said. “I’m not in his rarefied air.”
Myers helped Stayeas find a physician for heart surgery.
During a Marine Corps Marathon three years ago, Stayeas was running very slowly and looked terrible, according to Myers. Myers told him to see a doctor for a tightening feeling in his chest.
“He needed to have emergency heart surgery,” Myers said.
Stayeas’s family often makes vacations out of his races. He and his family spent a few days in Hawaii, the last state he needed to complete his runs in all 50.
He said it is hard to pick favorite marathons, but New York is special and always crowded, with about 42,000 runners.
Stayeas said he also likes smaller races of 5,000 to 6,000 people, such as the Scranton, Pa., Steamtown Marathon, which he has completed eight times.
“For them, it’s like a Super Bowl day,” he said. “It’s something they look forward to every year as a small town. They’re proud of it.”
At home in his basement, Stayeas has 101 medals — not all were from marathons — hanging by a pool table. It would be 102, but a race in Cheyenne, Wyo., doesn’t give out medals, Stayeas said.
Stayeas is the first in his family to run marathons. “I’m the crazy one,” he said. Now his son and daughter run 10Ks.
His next goal is to run three more by the Marine Corps, giving him a total 20 of those races.
And in the next few years, Stayeas wants to return to Greece — to run the original marathon.