The 63-year-old athlete finds peace and camaraderie at the Oregon Senior Games

When Jeff Ginalias lined up on the Corvallis High School track to practice his 100-meter sprint, he knew a recent hamstring problem would likely prevent him from reaching his full potential. He ran about halfway before having to hop over to a bench and sit down.

At 63, Ginalias is aware that competing in sprints at the Oregon Senior Games will be tough on his body. This injury is the latest in a series of calf muscle strains and sprained ankles suffered by the Corvallis resident during his competitive years.

The Senior Games are held annually in Corvallis. People as young as 50 can compete for medals in a variety of sports and potentially advance to the National Senior Games.

This year, Ginalias had ambitiously registered for the 50, 100, 200, 400 and 800 meters.

“Apart from the training part, they’re easier mentally and physically,” Ginalias said. “It’s harder for me at longer events. I’m not a good long-distance runner and I’ve never been disciplined enough for that.”

This isn’t the first time Ginalias has tried her hand at athletics. He started when he was in middle school and finished his teenage 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 training at Corvallis High School on Tuesday, August 2, 2022. Now in his 60s, Ginalias makes sure to take extra care of his body as he competes in the sprints.Ellen Dong/High School Journalism Institute

But from then on, Ginalias didn’t compete in track and field for about 40 years until he made his debut at the Senior Games in British Columbia in 2013. He is now a three-time competitor.

The Senior Games took place in Bend from 2014 to 2018.

“And then for some reason it just didn’t go any further after that,” said Morgan Baker of city travel agency Visit Corvallis.

To boost tourism, Visit Corvallis took over the event and began hosting the Senior Games last year. The first outing in Corvallis had around 375 participants. This year, the organizers expect 670.

As excitement grows for the Senior Games in Oregon, Baker, now the events coordinator, believes the games will remain a part of Corvallis for years to come.

This is good news for both Ginalias and Baker, who said the Senior Games brought people together to share about the sports they play or the family members who got them involved in the event.

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

Jeff Ginallas

Jeff Ginalias of Corvallis at Corvallis High School on Tuesday August 2, 2022. Ginalias is competing in the sprint events at the Oregon Senior Games in Corvallis. Ginalias is a sprinter at the Oregon Senior Games, where he returned to athletics after a 40-year hiatus.Beni Marquez/High School Journalism Institute

While Ginalias trains for the senior games, it’s not the gold medals that make him want to compete. Rather, he’s chasing the simple pleasure of having a fitness goal to guide him and enjoying how inclusive running can be. “It’s one of those sports that’s a little different from football and basketball in that you often need to have size and tremendous strength. I think athletics is something that people of all sizes can do,” Ginalias said.

It is important for all athletes to take care of their bodies, but for the seniors it becomes a much higher priority. Jovan Stevenson, a football and track and field coach at Corvallis High School, helped Ginalias learn proper running techniques that help reduce injury.

“It wasn’t about wearing out his body, it was about teaching him proper technique, which I do with all kids — so just his running form, pumping his arm, raising his knees, good knee drive,” Stevenson said.

Ginalias participates in exercise programs at his local gym to stay in shape beyond running on the track. He diligently warms up before each run to avoid additional injuries.

To prepare himself mentally, Ginalias said he clears his mind just before the start of a race. He focuses on the task at hand and forgets about everything else in the world.

“There is 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 between The Oregonian/OregonLive, Oregon State University, and other Oregon media organizations. For more information or support of the program, go to oregonlive.com/hsji.

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