September 24, 2022 6 min read 2 Comments
Ray Jancso winning gold in the 2017 National Senior Games. Photo courtesy National Senior Games Association.
By Ray Glier
The close calls for Ray Jancso in Vietnam were like an echo. They kept coming.
He was shot and brought that bullet home with him still lodged in his right leg. He was caught in the blast of a booby trap, which blew a hole in his left calf. Calamity had a third crack at him when Ray had a gun shot out of his hands. He was saved only because the bullet went through the handguard of his M16 and flattened against the barrel.
Then there was the time the armored vehicle he was riding on hit a mine and he was blown into the air. When he came down and hit his head on the side of the vehicle the laceration looked like somebody had tried to peel back his scalp with a saw.
Jancso (Jan-so) was lucky to be draped in three Purple Heart medals, not a flag on a casket, when he came home.
In 2018, Ray had another close call and survived, but this time luck had nothing to do with it.
He had a heart issue and would have died, he said, except he was in excellent physical shape. Jancso had built up a health bank, a rainy day fund, something his body/mind could use to combat rude health when he got older. Jancso, 80, had practiced fitness for years and my friend, Dr. Bob Schwab, calls this the basis for “alternative medicine.”
We will talk more about this practice of alternative medicine in a moment. But keep reading about Ray, please.
Jancso’s lifelong fitness regimen not only kept him alive he collected some track medals to go with the war-time medals. Last May, Ray won Gold in the 50, 100, and 200 in M80 at The National Senior Games in Ft. Lauderdale.
It seems a little tardy to be writing about Ray, seeing as he won those medals four months ago, except that he said this week he is ready to retire from competitive racing in the national games…
…only he is not going to retire from being fit.
Ray still plans on meeting his track buddies every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at the track in The Villages in central Florida and go through with his workout. He doesn't think he wants to continue to put all the training required for the big meets, but he is not done with the exercise required to beat the next episode of rude health and he will never tire of his pals.
“You have a bunch of people to train with,” he said, “so you don't have to train by yourself. If I were to have to trained by myself, I would have never been able to do what I did (medals).
“Having those other people out there and knowing that Monday, Wednesday and Friday, they’re going to be there, you gotta show up. You don't have to, but you know, you feel like you have to. So you got a lot of camaraderie there.”
Jancso said the endocarditis in 2018 ambushed his speed and his endurance, but not his willpower. A guy that had won two gold medals (50, 100) and a bronze (200) in the 2017 National Senior Games could no longer walk the track, much less run on it after the heart ailment that kept him in the hospital 14 days and on an IV drip for two months (three bags a day). But he kept grinding to regain his physical dependability.
In the end, Jancso just overwhelmed a persistent infection with a persistent attitude.
“I never thought about quitting,” he said. “I didn’t know how far back I could get as far as fitness level. I had no clue, but I kept at it.”
It wasn’t until late in 2021 that Jancso started to feel like a sprinter again. By May, 2022, he was a national champion.
Ray had a role model when it came to perseverance. His father, James, a steel worker in Pennsylvania, had the same makeup. “If he could stand up he was going to work,” Jancso said. “He could be sick as a dog and he was still going to work.”
Now you can see the layers of “alternative medicine” Dr. Schwab was talking about. The mental fortitude to go with the physical strength.
“Healthy habits (mental and physical) strengthen you for whatever illness or injury might come,” Dr. Schwab said. “These habits affect your immune system as well as your mood, strength, resiliency, etc., so I think these people do better.
“This is the basis of alternative medicine to a large degree, and is the explanation for medical miracles, in my view. The immune system is the key.”
Jancso was a borderline medical miracle. “I don’t know how close I was, but Rick Riddle (his coach) came to see me and told me later, ‘Jeez, I didn’t think you were going to make it’,” Ray said.
The science is pretty clear that the heart and immune system do a lot of cross-talking, like neighbors across the fence. Ray was very neighborly in that regard and that is why—with the help of antibiotics—he defeated the inflammation in his heart. This alternative medicine is not the late-night voodoo you see on the TV. This is the authentic stuff.
We all need it, but it is challenging to try on a new lifestyle of running and vigorous exercise. It is all about re-cultivating a mindset, said Michael Sachs, Phd., professor emeritus at Temple University with expertise in exercise and sports psychology. Older people are reheating fitness regimens they learned decades ago.
“Aerobics with Ken Cooper took off in 1968 and then there was the running boom of the 70s, and what you are seeing is people that were physically active in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, who maybe let their conditioning slide, are getting back into it,” Sachs said. “They are listening to the science and remembering what they learned way back.”
Sachs, 70, said another factor in the rise of the older jock are initiatives such as Exercise is Medicine from the American College of Sports Medicine, which urges doctors to give physical activity assessment and counseling to older patients. That is alternative medicine.
In this era of lotions and potions, and where Detox IVs are really a thing, Geezer Jocks are not trying to decode old age. Their experience simply tells them what makes them feel better and what makes them feel better is... exercise.
So whether you jog, walk, bike, swim, or chase the dog around the yard, you are practicing “alternative medicine.” It is ok to use the term loosely, but also remember the mental side of exercise, too, not just the cardio.
Mentally, Jancso could deal with the despair of possibly lying on his death bed with the heart issue because of so many close calls in combat.
In Vietnam, the gun was shot out of his hands five seconds after he stood up to lead a charge on an enemy position. An eighth of an inch either way and the bullet deflects to his chest and he is gone. As it was, he was still blown backwards. He heard someone say as he flew through the air, “The lieutenant’s dead.” Ray was the lieutenant.
There was the bullet he took to the leg and the blast from the booby trap and you wonder how many close calls with Agent Orange Jancso’s immune system has fought off. Ray figures as many soldiers were killed by the enemy in Vietnam as died from exposure to Agent Orange, the toxic death the U.S. used to kill vegetation the Viet Cong used for cover in the jungle.
The use of the defoliant in Operation Hades was chemical warfare and Jancso figures an odd rash and some acne that showed up on his body in later life could have something to do with that rainbow herbicide Agent Orange.
So, of course, he is not going quit on his exercise regimen. Ray might not train four or five days a week in 2023 to get ready for nationals, but he will stick with that one day where he runs three 300s to build endurance for the last 50 meters of the 200. He still sounds eager to carve another day into a fast/slow combination of running 400, walking 400, running 400, walking 400 (Ray's exercise regimens will posted on Geezer Jock Facebook group page this weekend).
As always, Ray’s workouts start with 30 minutes of dutiful stretching. "You can't ever do too much stretching," he said.
Jancso also declared in 2017 he was going to hang up his running shoes after the National Senior Games that year, but he rallied the competitor inside him. He might change his mind again after competing in the Florida Senior Games this December. Ray just has to overcome that ego thing that torments competitors.
“Some guys just want to participate,” Jancso said. “If they get any place, or just make the final, they’re happy and they should be. Unfortunately, the way I am, if I'm not on a podium, I'm not happy."
He showed a shameful smirk and said, "That's kind of not good, I know that.”
Ray might not be happy without the podium, but he will never abandon his joy in the practice of alternative medicine.
Ray is happiest when he is on the top step. Here he is with other competitors after the M80 100 meters at the 2022 National Senior Games.
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