63-year-old athlete finds peace, camaraderie in Oregon Senior Games

Corvallis resident Jeff Ginalias runs a 100-meter sprint while practicing at Corvallis High School on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. Ginalias is a sprinter in the Oregon Senior Games, where he was able to return to track and field after a 40-year hiatus. (Beni Marquez/High School Journalism Institute)

As Jeff Ginalias lined up on the track at Corvallis High School, ready to practice his 100-meter sprint, he knew that a recent hamstring issue would likely inhibit him from running to his fullest potential. He ran about halfway before having to hop over to 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. This injury is the most recent in a line of pulled calf muscles and sprained ankles the Corvallis resident has sustained throughout his years competitively running.

The Senior Games are held annually in Corvallis. People ages 50 and up can compete for medals in various sports, and potentially advance to the National Senior Games. The 2022 competition begins Thursday and continues through Aug. 21.

This year, Ginalias had ambitiously signed up to run the 50, 100, 200, 400 and 800-meter races.

“They’re easier, mentally and physically, other than the training part,” Ginalias said. “The longer events I have a harder time with. I’m not a good distance runner, and I’ve never been disciplined enough to do it.”

This isn’t Ginalias’ first time dabbling in track and field. He started when he was in middle school and completed his youth track career in his sophomore year of high school.

“I was one of those kids that was fast,” Ginalias said.

Corvallis resident Jeff Ginalias uses a foam roller to loosen up his hamstring muscle on his left leg while practicing at Corvallis High School on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. Now in his 60s, Ginalias is making sure to take special care of his body as he competes in the sprints. (Ellen Dong/High School Journalism Institute)

But from there, Ginalias didn’t participate in track and field for about 40 years until his first exposure to 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 just never continued after that,” said Morgan Baker of the city 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 in Corvallis had around 375 competitors. This year, organizers expect 670.

With enthusiasm growing in Oregon for the Senior Games, Baker, now the event coordinator, believes that the games will continue to be a part of Corvallis for years to come.

This comes as good news to both Ginalias and Baker, who said the Senior Games have brought people together to bond about the sports they play or the family members they have involved in the event.

“You develop a relationship and some understanding with some people, and it’s not just competition,” Ginalias said. “It’s more some camaraderie.”

While Ginalias trains for the Senior Games, gold medals aren’t what drive him to compete. Rather, he chases the simple pleasure of having a fitness goal to direct him and enjoys how inclusive track can be. “It’s one of those sports that’s a little different than maybe football and basketball in that often you have to have size and tremendous strength. I think track and field is something people at most any size can do,” Ginalias said.

It’s important for all athletes to take care of their bodies, but for those at the senior level, it becomes a much higher priority. Jovan Stevenson, a Corvallis High School football and track coach, assisted Ginalias in learning proper running techniques, which helps mitigate injury.

“It wasn’t about wear and tear on his body, just about teaching him proper technique which I do with all the kids — so just his running form, pumping his arm, getting his knees up, nice knee drive,” Stevenson said.

Ginalias participates in workout programs at his local health club to stay in shape beyond running on the track. He’s diligent about warm-up workouts before every run to avoid additional injuries.

To prepare himself mentally, Ginalias said he empties his mind right before a race starts. He focuses on the task ahead and forgets about everything else in the world.

“There’s a moment of peace.”

— Ellen Dong, McMinnville High School

— Beni Marquez, Ida B. Wells High School

This story was produced by student reporters as part of the High School Journalism Institute, an annual collaboration among The Oregonian/OregonLive, Oregon State University and other Oregon media organizations. For more information or to support the program, go to oregonlive.com/hsji.