August 08, 2013

Running is one of those sports you never have to give up; it has the ability to transform lives, and sets participants on a path of healthy living and longevity. ME professor and former Engineers cross country coach Brian Savilonis has made a lifelong commitment to the sport. He recently added another feather in the cap of his illustrious running career.

Last week Savilonis competed in the National Senior Games in Cleveland, and earned bronze medals in both the 1,500m and 5K race-walks. It was the first time he’d competed in the competition, which draws from the most talented seniors from across the country.

“I’d never done the Senior Games before and I figured I’d give it a shot,” he says. “It turned out to be a wonderful place, and a wonderful experience. The focus there is all about wellness.”

The first medal-winning performance came on July 30 for Savilonis, when he competed in the 1500-meter race-walk at Baldwin Wallace University. He posted an 8-minute 49.86-second time to edge out a close competitor for third place.

He followed it up a day later in the 5K race-walk, which started at First Energy Stadium, home of the Cleveland Browns. Savilonis flew through the streets of downtown Cleveland, finishing third (31:01.90), just a minute and a half back from first.

Savilonis earned a trip to nationals after winning the New Hampshire State Meet in August 2012. He competed in the 60-65 age group. “A race-walk is a very formal definition of walking,” Savilonis says. “There are two rules: one is obvious—that you must have contact with the ground; you’re not up in the air or pushing air. The other is hard for age groups where your knee has to straighten on contact, until it’s under your center of gravity.”

Recently Savilonis competed in the World Masters Athletics Championships in Sacramento. He also competes annually in the Bay State Games (in the 1980s he set the record in the 3K race-walk, at 14:24, a record that stands to this day in the open division). Also in ’80s, he earned two open division national titles.

“I try not to look at those times anymore,” Savilonis jokingly says. “It’s fun doing this age group stuff. It’s against your age and a lot of it is trying to stay healthy.”

The National Senior Games offers a wide array of sports for seniors to compete in, ranging from track and field to archery and basketball. The competition occurs every other year with around 11,000 participants. Savilonis was not the only WPI faculty member participating in the games—history professor Bland Addison earned a bronze in the men’s badminton doubles competition.

Savilonis began teaching at WPI in 1981, and in 1985 became the women’s cross country coach. In the mid-1990s he was named head coach for both the men’s and women’s teams; he retired from that post after the 2010 season.

By Matt Stewart