Last week I fly-walked out to Albuquerque to participate in a press conference hosted by Mayor Tim Keller to announce that the 2019 National Senior Games had smashed the previous all-time record for athletes. 13,712 is a crazy number, a full 30% above 2017 and 14% over our previous high. For once, everyone around me was also walking on the Moon!
Some truly memorable things happened while I was there that are well worth sharing with you. First, one of the things I so much respect about the New Mexico Senior Olympics is that since their beginning nearly 40 years ago (been going longer than Nationals) they have always held Senior Indian Games for all of the pueblos and reservations. There was a special torch rally ceremony closing the games at the Indian School in Santa Fe the day after I arrived. I’ve been involved with staging two torch relays in my time – they are the most brutal yet exciting event beasties to tame. The first was a 26-city visit for the 10th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act iin 2000 called the Spirit of ADA Torch Relay. The second was an eight-city Texas tour on behalf of the 2011 National Senior Games in Houston, which helped put me on the radar to get my current media director gig with NSGA. Since joining the team, I have found a way to see torch activity in each succeeding games in Cleveland, Minn/St Paul and Birmingham, and I thought my streak would end until this unscheduled trip came up. I would have jumped on the RailRunner train to Santa Fe from ABQ if I had to, but three of our team wanted to go and we rode up together.
The torch reception ceremony was stirring to watch as the tribes marched in, most in their games shirts and proudly wearing the medals they had won that day. But I was thrilled to find that the Acoma tribe was in attendance and a race walker named Ralph Paytiamo was there. Last month I had to honor to interview Ralph and produce a Personal Best feature about him that you can read here: “When I Walk, I think about my tribe, I think about the youth.” Well worth the read.
It was a treat to meet him personally and to chat with several of the Acoma athletes and family members and take a photo with them. But that wasn’t the only special thing that day – my sister Daran lives in Santa Fe and came out to see me. She is not a senior athlete but she did introduce me to her good friend and senior runner Carolyn Robinson in 2011. We’ve kept in touch and I had lunch with her and Daran on a trip to NM last year. At the time, sis told me Carolyn was battling with anxiety and depression, so bad that she was barely able to get Carolyn to come out to eat. The meal was on me, even!
I was so very proud to hear that Daran helped her friend out of a deep funk last year and urged her to go to New Mexico Senior Olympics and qualify for National Senior Games hosted in her own state. Carolyn was even invited to be one of the torch bearers and to speak to the gathering. Awesome. We closed the visit by meeting at a neighborhood café with my crew for some friendly chat.
The next unforgettable thing was the annual Gathering of Nations, the largest native powpow in North America, which took place that weekend. I had heard about it while attending the Balloon Fiesta thirty years ago and figured I’d never work it out to witness the spectacle. I must have flown on Serendipity Airlines for it to coincide with my trip.
I have always felt a spiritual wave every time I visit New Mexico, partly due to coming to visit my father in his last years living with Sis. He found peace there. Witnessing the scores of tribes marching in unity reignited the feeling from my previous day’s experience.
Our staff still had time to take the Sandia Tramway to catch the closing day from the eagle’s view. What a day! I don’t care if the damned DNA test says I have no Native American blood, I still feel a bond with their culture. Their expressions in poems, prayers and songs touch my soul.
Finally, my last stirring experience came the next morning when I got up early and practiced my power walk at the Civic Plaza next to my hotel. I stepped to the center of the plaza, where the mayor would make his announcement two hours later, and evoked the Great Spirt to bless the event and to bring healing to my friend Eric Todd who I have dedicated my big race in June to in a previous blog entry. Eric has an incredible family and circle of prayer warriors, and I ask if you are the praying type to add him to your list. He’s a fighter with a gentle soul, and he’s on my mind every day, especially when I walk.
Two laps around the plaza and City Hall came out to exactly one mile. (My 1500-meter race is a tick less, but I practice the extra one-tenth at pace so I can power through the finish line. I expected the altitude to affect my time, but was surprised that I logged my second-best time (13:03) – the best happened in my first power walk in Washington state that got me a gold trinket last summer. Eric, I guess you aren’t that heavy on my back!
It was an unforgettable and emotional trip. In the midst of the long hours, stress and deadlines of my work to prepare a media center for the largest Olympic style event for seniors in the world, it was a welcome lift for my spirit. The Land of Enchantment always does that for me, but this was even more special.
I’m so busy I passed myself in the hall today, but I pledge to have one more entry before The Games. There are other people related to my Games experience that I will have on my mind in June for motivation in addition to making my “Walk of Life” for Team Eric.
Long blog. I guess I still run my mouth better than I power my walk!