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Keeping people ‘active and healthy’

bright spotCopyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Ruben L. Porter was an avid athlete, participating in track and field throughout high school, college and into his Army service days.

Porter, 84, lost the ability to use his legs and with it the ability to compete after he was involved in a 1963 automobile accident.

Julie King, left, and fellow Army Veteran Fern Honawa practicing boccia ball for the National Veterans Golden Age Games. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The annual National Veterans Golden Age Games, open to veterans age 55 and older, has provided Albuquerque resident Porter with the opportunity to compete once again.

On a recent afternoon at the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center recreation hall, Porter proudly wore a red Golden Age Games sweatsuit along with a neck full of medals.

He competed in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 games, and boasts six gold medals and four silvers in shuffleboard, bowling, table tennis and horseshoes.

“This gives me a chance to compete against people in my age bracket,” he said. “I get to meet veterans from all over.”

Next year, Porter won’t have to travel far to compete, as Albuquerque will host the 32nd National Veterans Golden Age Games on Aug. 3 through Aug. 8.

“We’re pretty excited,” said Michelle McKenzie, a recreation therapist with the New Mexico VA Health Care Center. “I think we will have a large New Mexico presence.”

McKenzie said 800 to 1,000 athletes will travel to Albuquerque for the event. The goal is to have at least 30 New Mexicans represented in the games.

Retired Marine Tommy Carlston pushes a puck down the shuffleboard as veterans practice for the National Veterans Golden Age Games. Thursday,Nov. 16, 2017. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“In a way, the goal is to keep people active and healthy,” McKenzie said. “The more physically active you are, the more opportunities you have to interact and engage with other people, as well as fellow veterans, the less likely you are to be admitted to the hospital for some major, catastrophic type of event.”

Events are divided into eight age classifications, starting at age 55 all the way up to “90+.”

Some events – such as table tennis, nine ball and air rifle – are divided into ambulatory and wheelchair divisions, and some have a separate division for athletes who are visually impaired.

Athletes must receive inpatient or outpatient care at the VA to qualify for

Madeline Brooks, left, pushes a puck down the shuffleboard with Gretchen Rieck waits her turn as veterans practice for the National Veterans Golden Age Games. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)


Such an enormous event spread among venues throughout the city is going to call for lots of help.

Katrina Bressler, assistant director of the New Mexico VA Health Care Center, said local organizers are looking for 2,500 volunteers to help with everything from water distribution, timing and scoring, and greeting arriving athletes at the airport.

They’re also trying to raise around $250,000 to help defray costs.

“We don’t want to just do it OK, we want to make it the best that we can,” Bressler said. “Everybody wants to go above and beyond.”

And there’s one more thing the organizational team has to suggest.

“We encourage people to be spectators,” said McKenzie. “Come and watch!”