"Medals of Honor" August 2016 Athlete of the Month

Jean Davies, 71, Los Lunas, New Mexico

The beaming lady you see here is 71-year-old track and cycling athlete Jean Davies of Los Lunas, New Mexico. She is not just smiling to celebrate winning gold medals in five events at last month’s New Mexico Senior Olympics, where she caught our eye. Jean is also happy that she is sharing some of her medals with the families of fallen American service heroes through a nonprofit project called  Medals of Honor.

“Nobody was more surprised than me to win them – this is just my second year,” says the retired fifth grade teacher, who adds she never did sports until she moved south from Cheyenne, Wyoming in 2014. Jean has kept in shape as an adult through yoga, Pilates, walking and recreational biking. She initially dismissed the suggestion to compete in The Games because she had never imagined herself as an athlete. However, she and a friend decided to try it.

“I have always been concerned about my good health, and thought this would be a way to compare myself with other individuals in my age group to see how I was doing,” she says. “What I found is that it’s a lot of fun.”

While participating in a local “Heroes Run” charity event in May, Jean saw a runner wearing an extra bib with a soldier’s name on it, and he directed her to to register and to be assigned a name. She requested three for her upcoming New Mexico state qualifying events, and soon received bios about Staff Sergeants Darrell C. Tucker and Vinson B. Atkinson, and for Specialist Andrew P. Wade.

“The only medal I ever won until two years ago was for ballet as a kid. Once I got a few, I was thinking that they were just hanging there,” Jean recalls. “The idea of representing a fallen hero provided another purpose. My medals are precious because they mark what I’ve accomplished, but I didn’t need to have them to know that. They made me happy, and I wanted to make others happy with them too.”

Jean was gratified to compete well. “I was not the same person I was a year ago when I raced; it was a different vision and so motivating to represent them,” she explains. “It was hot in Roswell, but I thought these were soldiers who wore hot uniforms and didn’t have any comforts of home. I needed to go out there and do my best.”

“I was so excited to go home and write letters to the families of those three guys and to send the medal I won for each,” she continues. “I told them I kept their son, their spouse, their family member in mind the whole time I was racing.”

Her running and cycling success has Jean now seriously considering making her first National Senior Games appearan ce in Birmingham in 2017, and then representing New Mexico when Albuquerque hosts The Games in 2019. “It would be a lot more pressure, being at another level. I will need to do more training to feel like I’m ready,” she says. “But competing is f un, and it’s not cutthroat or nasty with seniors. Everyone is respectful and some even offer helpful advice.”

Jean plans to repeat the experience and that it has enriched her. “They helped preserve my freedom, so I wanted to help preserve their memory. They made me a better person, and they will be with me for the rest of my life.” 

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