Athlete, 63, finds peace and camaraderie at Oregon Senior Games
As Jeff Ginalias lined up on the track at Corvallis High School, ready to practice his 100-meter sprint, he knew a recent hamstring issue would likely prevent him from running to his full potential. He ran about halfway before he had to jump onto a bench and sit down.
At 63, Ginalias is well aware that competing in sprints at the Oregon Senior Games will be hard on his body. The injury is the latest in a series of calf muscle and ankle sprains the Corvallis resident has suffered throughout his competitive years.
The Senior Games take place every year in Corvallis. People aged 50 and over can compete for medals in various sports and eventually qualify for the Senior National Games.
This year, Ginalias had committed himself with ambition to run the 50, 100, 200, 400 and 800 meter races.
“They’re easier, mentally and physically, apart from the training part,” Ginalias said. “The longer events I have a harder time with. I’m not a good long-distance runner and I’ve never been disciplined enough to do that.
This is not the first time that Ginalias has taken up athletics. He started when he was in middle school and finished his youth track career in his sophomore year of high school.
“I was one of those kids who was fast,” Ginalias said.
But from then on, Ginalias didn’t participate in track and field for about 40 years until his first exposure at the Senior Games in British Columbia in 2013. He’s now a three-time participant.
The Senior Games were held in Bend from 2014 to 2018.
“And then for some reason it never continued after that,” said Morgan Baker of the city’s travel bureau Visit Corvallis.
So, in an effort to increase tourism, Visit Corvallis took over the event and started hosting the Senior Games last year. The first outing at Corvallis had around 375 competitors. This year, the organizers expect 670.
With enthusiasm growing in Oregon for the Senior Games, Baker, now the event coordinator, believes the games will continue to be a part of Corvallis for years to come.
That’s good news for Ginalias and Baker, who said the Senior Games brought people together to bond around the sports they play or the family members they’ve involved in the event.
“You develop a relationship and some understanding with certain people, and it’s not just competition,” Ginalias said. “It’s more camaraderie.”
While Ginalias trains for the Senior Games, gold medals aren’t what drives him to compete. Rather, he pursues the simple pleasure of having a fitness goal to drive him and appreciates how inclusive the track can be. “It’s one of those sports that is maybe a little bit different from football and basketball in that you often have to have size and enormous strength. I think athletics is something that people of all sizes can do,” Ginalias said.
Taking care of their bodies is important for all athletes, but for those at the senior level, it becomes a much higher priority. Corvallis High School football and athletics coach Jovan Stevenson helped Ginalias learn proper running techniques, which helps with injuries.
“It wasn’t about wear and tear on his body, just teaching him proper technique which I do with all the kids – so just his running form, his pumped arm, his knees up, a nice knee thrust” , Stevenson said.
Ginalias participates in training programs at his local health club to stay fit beyond trail running. He is diligent in warm-up workouts before every race to avoid further injury.
To prepare mentally, Ginalias says he clears his mind just before the start of a race. He concentrates on the task at hand and forgets about everyone else.
“There is a moment of peace.”
— Ellen Dong, McMinnville High School
— Beni Marquez, Ida B. Wells High School
This story was produced by student journalists as part of the High School Journalism Institute, an annual collaboration between The Oregonian/OregonLive, Oregon State University and other Oregon media organizations. For more information or to support the program, go to oregonlive.com/hsji.