by Brian Mazurek
August 24, 1985
Mel McGinnis Finds Niche As Race Walker
Then at the County Meet in 1977, Brockport Coach John Izzo was looking for some volunteers to participate in the mile walk, and who else but McGinnis stepped up.
That was the beginning of a new love for McGinnis as he won the event and is now considered one of the top race walkers in the United States.
"I was trying to find my niche in track and field," McGinnis said as he reflected back on his high school years. "I used to run sprints, distances, and jumped, but when the coach was looking for some people to walk, I thought I'd try it. I didn't know what I was doing - I just mimicked what the other guys were doing. After winning the race, I figured this was an event I could really excel in."
Excel is exactly what McGinnis has done.
After winning the County Meet once again and finishing second in the Section 5 meet, McGinnis moved on to Spring Arbor College, an NAIA school in Michigan. There he was a two-time NAIA All-American on the indoor level with a second and fourth place finish in the two-mile walk. He was also a two-time NAIA All-American on the outdoor level with a second and fifth place finish.
That's just the tip of the iceberg for the Gerry resident. He's also won three gold medals in the Empire State Games, including one two weeks ago in Buffalo where he covered the 50-kilometer event in 4:34.57, 11 minutes better than his nearest competitor.
McGinnis trained from 1982-1984 at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs; finished 10th in the 20-kilometer and participated in the 50-kilometer at the 1984 Olympic Trials in Los Angeles; and has also walked in the National Sports Festival and the Mexico International Walk Week Race along with many other events.
In September, McGinnis will be walking in the Walk For America for Mother's Against Drunk Drivers. He'll be walking from El Paso to Abilene, Texas and he'll be walking an average of 30 miles per day.
Race walking is probably the least exposed event in track and field, but probably one of the most recognizable. The swinging of the hips is the distinguishing feature and it brings a few chuckles from those who haven't seen the sport.
"You get some ribbing, but the people around Gerry are very supportive," McGinnis said.
There are two basic rules to race walking, McGinnis pointed out. The first is that one foot must be in contact with the ground at all times and the second is the leg must be straight when it's touching the ground.
"Race walking isn't as strenuous as running," McGinnis said. "When you run, your body takes a pounding, but when your walking, it doesn't break down as much.
"Doctors are prescribing walking to people instead of running. They are finding out there are more benefits to walking than there is for running.
"For someone to start out, they need a good pair of running shoes and someone who knows how to race walk. It looks difficult, but it's very easy. I've taught someone how to race walk in ten seconds. It's a simple stride to learn and it's the best exercise."
Size really doesn't make a difference, either. "Race walking is a combination of stride length and rate. I'm 6-3, but most race walkers are 6-0 and under," McGinnis said.
Right now, McGinnis is pointing toward the 1988 Summer Olympics. "I would like to compete in them - it's been a boyhood dream of mine. Actually, my boyhood dream was to play in the National Basketball Association, and in the Olympics, it was to run the mile. I know I can't run the mile, but I might be able to walk in them."
McGinnis, in the 1984 Olympic Trials, finished what he called a mediocre 10th in the 25-kilometer walk and was disqualified from his specialty, the 50-kilometer event. "I was seventh and was moving up on the lead pack - I was having the race of my life - but then was disqualified for a rules infraction. I don't know what I did wrong. I never bothered to ask."
The 25-year-old McGinnis said he hasn't reached his prime as a race walker. He said the prime is usually between 28 and 32 so if that's true, he should be on the top of his sport when the 1988 Olympics roll around.
McGinnis trains six days a week and walks between 70 and 90 miles per week. It's a lot of walking, but he said, "I love to do it. The Lord has given me the talent to do this and the Lord keeps me going."
There aren't many local walking events for McGinnis, but he said that is all right with him. "It gives me a chance to see the country and the world."
McGinnis just completed a stint as a Youth Pastor in Michigan and will be attending the Asbury Theological School in Kentucky in September.
When he's not race walking, McGinnis said with a chuckle, "I'm a slow street walker - people are always getting a head of me."
But when race walking, there are few people who can keep up with McGinnis.
The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.