For Jersey Strong, it’s Deja Vu in ABQ - February 2019 Athlete of the Month

Sue Benjamin, 57

Karen Strittmatter, 58

Diane Pevny, 59

Jersey Strong 50+ Softball  

It’s hard to imagine any athletes being more excited to be going to the 2019 National Senior Games presented by Humana than three special teammates on the Jersey Strong women’s 50+ softball team. That’s because for them the road to Albuquerque this year went through Albuquerque more than three decades ago.

Sue Benjamin, Karen Strittmatter and Diane Pevny met each other in 1976 when they were recruited from around northern New Jersey to compete on a fast-pitch softball tournament team called the Ramsey Jais. The trio has continued to play together for all but a few years when they were starting their families.

“In 1984 we won the New Jersey State Championship and Mid-Atlantic Regionals and advanced to the ASA Class A Women's Fast Pitch National Tournament in Albuquerque,” Sue explains. “Now, we’re all excited that three of us are returning 35 years later to play softball in the National Senior Games!”   

“I remember when we were all out fundraising to make the trip and singing that David Cassidy song  (“Point Me in the Direction of Albuquerque”) on the way,” Karen recalls. “It seems like so long ago, and now here we are. It’s kinda crazy.” Karen, who plays second base, also had her own special memory. “I was only able to be team manager at the time because I was pregnant with my first child. So, I remember being very sick,” she laughs, adding, “But it was a lot of fun and a learning experience as a manager.”

The youth trip to Albuquerque was their first to the Southwest, and they vividly recall taking the Sandia Tram up the mountain and visiting Old Town to buy beads and artifacts. “We had never seen things like that before, and we definitely want to go back,” says Diane, the team’s shortstop.

All three remember “playing in the wide-open” and are excited to see the new Albuquerque Regional Sports Complex with its vista across the valley up to the Sandia Mountains. “You look up from your game and see the red mountains,” Karen says. “It’s really pretty there.”

There’s one more connection to this story, because the coach who brought them together plans to reunite with them in Albuquerque. “Bernie Walton did a lot for softball in New Jersey,” Sue says. “He’s 87 and now lives in Colorado, and we’re thrilled that he’s driving down to see us play again. It’s all coming around full circle.”

Sue, who holds down third base and is Jersey Strong’s captain, saw an article six years ago about an over 50 team going on to National Senior Games. “I was 52 and said, ‘What the heck?’ I’m a senior already.” They quickly put a team together around their core and entered the New Jersey Senior Olympics, winning their division each year since. 

The pilgrimage to New Mexico will be for their third National Senior Games, and they can’t wait to go to Albuquerque again. Despite numerous injuries in 2017, Jersey Strong made it to the A division championship game, so the team feels they have unfinished business to settle in New Mexico. In addition to softball, Sue and Diane will play pickleball doubles and Diane will enjoy more scenery competing in golf. Each of the three also currently coach youth, high school or college softball.

“Back then, we thought people that were still playing softball at 25 and 30 were old timers,” Sue observes. “It’s great to have a venue to do this, to see other senior athletes who inspire us, and to be a part of a greater athletic community. Obviously, we have our friendships for life, too. None of us have any intention of giving it up now!”

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