Athletes prepare for Gainesville Senior Games

The 2021 Tokyo Olympics ended last month, but a new competition begins this week.

The Gainesville Senior Games start Friday and three Oak Hammock athletes will compete, hoping to qualify for the state championships and challenge their abilities.

Ray Goldwire, 86, will compete in golf; Bob Virnstein, 78, will enter swimming; and Linda Cooney, 72, will face off on the track.

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To enter the games, athletes must celebrate their 50th birthday by Dec. 31, 2021.

Seniors in 13 cities will compete and the top five in each category will move on to the state championships in Ft. Lauderdale from Dec. 4-12.

Goldwire will compete first with a 9 a.m. start on Friday at the Ironwood Golf Course. The Alabama native started golfing in junior high, but the sport took a backseat to football and basketball during high school.

After serving in the military, Goldwire attended UF and graduated with a business degree. He moved to the Bahamas for work and met his wife there, an FSU grad.

Ray Goldwire

Goldwire said he focused on tennis after getting married because of the time-consuming nature of golf, but now he prefers golf―where the ball you have to hit isn’t moving.

“Golf is really a lifetime sport,” Goldwire said. “I feel like I have a better sense of the mechanics of the game today.”

In the past, he had more power but the ball might not end up in the fairway. Now, he’s fairly accurate even though he has less power..

However, Goldwire said he’s improved in the past 30 years and could beat his 50-year-old self at a round of golf. He moved to Oak Hammock 16 years ago when it first opened and has played more golf in those years than the previous 70, he said.

Goldwire will bring some international experience to the senior games, having played golf in six countries.

Virnstein’s grandfather taught him to swim out of necessity at 3 years old so he wouldn’t drown in the Chesapeake Bay near his hometown.

All the members of Virnstein’s family were jumping off the dock and into the water.

“The story is that I walked off the dock like everybody else,” Virnstein said.

He spent the summers in Maryland swimming and skiing and even competed for a time as a freshman at Johns Hopkins University.

“I wasn’t that good, and it killed me,” Virnstein said. “Our college didn’t have a pool so we had to take a bus to the neighboring college and swim.”

He graduated with a degree in marine science, studying sea grass.

Bob Virnstein

Virnstein worked at the St. Johns River Water Management District in Palatka for 20 year. He lived on the river, about a mile and a quarter wide, and would swim back and forth while keeping track of the sea grasses in front of the house.

He’s only been at Oak Hammock since June 2020, but he’s competed in the games before for several years. He competes in the 100-yard individual medley, 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard breaststroke.

“I like to compete, so if I enter, I’ll try to do well,” Virnstein said. “It forces me to work a little harder.”

He enjoys the pressure to force himself to get in shape and the camaraderie from competing with the same people each year.

The 100-yard medley is his favorite event because he’s decent at all four strokes, though the breaststroke is tough.

“For me, it’s a killer, but I only have to swim 25 yards of it and it’s the first leg for the event,” Virnstein said.

Thankfully, he’s competing in the Gainesville Senior Games and not the Olympics.

“But there aren’t that many guys 78 that swim butterfly―so,” he said.

He watched the Tokyo Olympics this summer and said he’d get close to the screen to figure out how the athletes swam so fast.

“They’re going twice as fast as I am, and I don’t understand it,” Virnstein said. “Well, of course one thing, they’re 20 not 78.”

Cooney will compete in track. She’s competed in many 10K, 10-mile races, a half marathon and two Marine Corps Marathons in Washington, D.C.

“I ran for about 30 years and then decided that walking would probably work better for me,” Cooney said in a press release. “I usually try to walk at least four or five miles every day – rain or shine.”

This is Cooney’s first year in the Gainesville Senior Games.

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