LAS CRUCES — About 600 people ages 50 and older have signed up to compete in the 2022 New Mexico Senior Olympics, being held this week in Las Cruces.
People from across the state and surrounding areas traveled to southern New Mexico to participate in a series of events, including archery, field sports, pickleball, swimming and tennis between June 8 and 11.
These were the first games scheduled in the state since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. According to a representative for the New Mexico Senior Olympics, previous games had more than 1,000 registrants. Not all events held in previous years have been brought back for this year’s games.
The majority of events are held at New Mexico State University’s main campus, but several competitions are held at nearby public school campuses.
I always jump
Kendall Blue, 80, competed Wednesday morning in the high jump. He was the only person to compete in his age bracket and cleared 3ft 5in. Blue said he’s been competing in the high jump since his elementary school days, taking first place in Albuquerque as a sixth-grader.
He continued to compete in college at Oklahoma State University. Blue dedicated his win Wednesday to his high school and college coaches Hugh Hackett and Carl “Bill” Gentry.
“There are three things I found: If you eat well, exercise and sleep well, you will benefit,” Blue said. “I come from a family of athletes. My dad was an All-American at Oklahoma State University in basketball and he was coached by Hank Iba. This name really stands out to people of my generation.
Blue has lived in New Mexico for about 40 years. He was cheered on Wednesday by two of his daughters, Hannabah Blue and Virginia Blue-Ramirez, and his grandchildren. Her eldest daughter has the athletic gene and runs marathons, half-marathons, and is in the military.
“Even though he is 80 years old, he has the spirit of someone much younger. And so I just hope to have as much courage as him when I get older,” Hannabah said.
The sisters said they were trying to convince Blue to go to the 2023 Senior National Games in Pittsburgh.
Barbara Hutchison, 84, and Emma Liptow, 86, stood on the winners’ podium together on Wednesday after competing in the discus and shot put. Hutchison said she has been competing on the court for a long time, but had taken time off to compete in pickleball in previous years. She competed in the senior Olympics for almost 30 years, but did not participate in outdoor sports in her youth.
“I taught health and physical education … I taught shot put in my eighth grade gym class,” Hutchison said. “I didn’t compete in high school or college.”
Liptow was joined by many other athletes from her senior program at Acoma Pueblo this week. She said many people in the group have died over the past year, but it’s a joy to play sports. She said she only started competing around 18 years ago. But his grandfather and brother were both athletic.
Swimming events were up Thursday morning with various rounds of breaststroke, freestyle, butterfly and backstroke.
Eileen Shult, 68, of Mesquite, said she swam in various age groups growing up until she was 18, but only returned to the sport in 2017. Her first senior Olympics took place in 2019 in Albuquerque, before the pandemic.
She competed in the 50-yard backstroke on Thursday and the 100 and 200-yard backstroke later in the week.
“Swimming, especially now at this time in my life…makes me happy,” Shult said. “I try to swim three days a week.”
John Lucero, 56, said it was his first senior Olympics. He said he participated in triathlons, did Jujutsu, kickboxing and started competing in swimming competitions when he was 7 years old. Her coach suggested enrolling in the Senior Olympics to get involved in more swimming-specific competitions. He won several medals on Thursday.
Another woman, who preferred not to be named, planned to compete in eight swimming events during the week of competition. She said she is now 77 and has been competing for about 18 years, but only learned to swim when she was 59.
She took to the water Thursday hoping to qualify for the Pittsburgh Games next year.
Mari Forbes, 58, of Albuquerque was going to compete in all of the freestyle events during the week of competition. She said she used to play tennis and compete in the sport, but can no longer play due to a knee injury. Forbes learned to swim as a child, but started the sport about a year and a half ago and her competitiveness brought her to the starting block. She took first place in her age group.
Several other sporting events are scheduled through Saturday, including cycling, track events and shuffleboard. A calendar of events is available online at https://mcusercontent.com/1cb688808701f46f9899ac548/files/3c2a2edb-e085-6fce-059f-c618fce47726/2022_Games_Schedule_of_Events_detailed_rev._5_10_2022.pdf.