Roy Griak was asked last week about the biggest changes he has seen during his time at the University of Minnesota.

Griak thought for a minute and settled on this, as it pertains to athletes: They haven't changed. There might be more distractions around them, but their problems are still the same and their joys are still the same. Fundamentally, they are still the same.

It was a great perspective from a man who is equal parts Gophers legend and time capsule.

Griak, the longtime coach of the men's cross-country and track teams, retired from that post in 1996 but has continued to work as an administrative aid. Add it up, and Griak is celebrating 50 years of service to the school — and the U, in turn, is honoring him for that.

In conjunction with the 28th Roy Griak Invitational — one of the largest cross-country events in the country, encompassing both high school and college runners — on Saturday at Les Bolstad Golf Course on the St. Paul campus, the school is holding a 50-year celebration for Griak on Thursday. The event is in the DQ Club Room at TCF Bank Stadium, and more information is available at

It's all part of a life well spent for Griak, who was born in Montana but raised in Duluth. He graduated high school in 1942, served in World War II, ran for the Gophers in the late 1940s and will turn 90 next month.

"I consider this home. ... I get in my car, and I don't have to steer. It just comes to the university by itself. I consider it a special place," Griak said. "I never dreamed I'd end up coaching here. … But when the opportunity came I seized the opportunity, and I"ve been here ever since."

Griak no longer runs, but he described in detail a daily exercise regimen that would put many of us to shame.

"If you expect to be a leader, you have to act like a leader," Griak said, adding later: "If you don't have discipline, you don't have anything."

Athletes these days still have plenty, he said, even if we try to make it seem like they don't.

Because the more things change, the more they stay the same.

michael rand