When 94 year old senior athlete Larry Johnson of Albuquerque received his NSGA Personal Best Award recognizing him as an inspiration and role model for active, healthy aging, he decided to demonstrate his vitality by standing on his head in front of 1,200 delighted attendees to the opening session for the 36th annual New Mexico Conference on Aging held at the Isleta Resort and Conference Center in Albuquerque. The stunt was also broadcasted in a news story by KOAT TV (ABC) that evening.
Larry has over two dozen marathons to his credit and has earned numerous medals in running and cycling at New Mexico Senior Olympics and the National Senior Games going back to 1987.
Larry has also become something of a local legend by hosting a 100 mile bike ride on his birthday for the past four years. “As my 90th birthday approached, one of my grandsons suggested that I ride 90 miles on my bike,” Johnson recalled. “I was hesitant to make that ride outdoors so we decided to do the ride in the spin room at my gym. I went on to make it an even 100, and people now join me every year for my birthday spin.”
The award presentation highlighted a senior fitness theme given to the opening plenary session of the conference organized by the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department. Hosted by Cabinet Secretary Gino Renaldi, the program also featured keynote
presentations by noted cardiologist Dr. Barry Ramo (also the medical correspondent for KOAT- TV) and NSGA CEO Marc T. Riker. In addition, Shellie Pfohl, executive director of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, came from Washington, DC to assist Riker in presenting the award and conducted a workshop session later in the conference. Riker also presented a recognition award to Ernesto Ramos, who founded New Mexico Senior Olympics (NMSO) in 1979 and served as NSGA’s national board chair for several years.
“When New Mexico Senior Olympics was asked to help stage the opening session program, we felt it would be good to involve NSGA to help people understand that our games are available for everyone, not just elite athletes,” said Cecelia Acosta, executive director of the New Mexico games. “The Personal Best health and wellness message represents the heart of our mission. While we have many great senior athletes who have set records and won many national medals, Larry’s story seemed to be the best fit to help inspire others to get moving.”
Marc Riker shared glowing praise for what is being accomplished in New Mexico. “They have enjoyed state funding support and put it to good use by establishing a network of local games to feed into their state Senior Olympics,” he said. “Beyond that, they conduct health and wellness programming and created annual Indian Games to motivate the native people to participate. They are even starting a pilot Tai Chi program this year. It was great to come here and give them their due recognition in from of a home audience.”
Our thanks to Acosta’s entire NMSO team and to Carmella Martinez for their hospitality and hard work. We didn’t want to leave The Land of Enchantment!