City celebrates National Senior Games’ arrival in one year

Mayor Tim Keller tries his hand at pickleball during Wednesday ceremonies on the Civic Plaza. The National Senior Games are coming to Albuquerque on June 14, 2019. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

“It’s a lot harder than it looks,” Tim Keller said while at the Civic Plaza on Wednesday morning.

No, he wasn’t talking about his job as mayor of Albuquerque.

Keller was describing his first experience with pickleball as he participated in a sports demonstration as part of a Year Out Celebration for the 2019 National Senior Games that will take place in Albuquerque.

Keller impressed more than embarrassed himself during his try at pickleball, which is a cross between tennis and badminton. It is one of 20 sports offered to athletes of age 50 or older at the National Senior Games.

Sally Gomez, left, is instructed by volunteer Don Unnever during the National Senior Games Year Out Celebration Wednesday. Albuquerque will host the 2019 games. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Keller says more than 10,000 athletes are expected to compete at the National Senior Games on June 14-25 of next year.

An economic report estimates a $30 million boost to the Albuquerque economy for next year’s event, Keller said.

“Hopefully, it will be a game-changer for our city,” Keller said. “We hope the competitors and their families will want to move here or come back to visit on vacation.”

So just how did Albuquerque land the 2019 National Senior Games?

It was a competitive process over a couple years, Keller said.

“We put together a package of all the facilities we have to offer,” Keller said. “We compete on culture and climate. And, we knew we would have our great Visit Albuquerque team to market the games.”

Keller wore a T-shirt that read: “One Albuquerque.”

Marc Riker, the CEO of the National Senior Games, said that slogan described why the NSG went with the Duke City as the host for its event.

“When we came out here and did our site visit it was very evident that there was one community that would work together to help produce phenomenal games and create an awesome experience for our active aging adults,” Riker said in front of a microphone amid a small gathering at the Civic Plaza. “What you do for your seniors is truly above what other cities across the country do. We are so excited to be here. We know the games will be phenomenal.”

Albuquerque did its best to make Wednesday’s event big. There was entertainment, including Spanish dancing, Zumba dancers and a line-dancing team. In addition to pickleball, people had their opportunity to try tennis, basketball and shuffleboard. There was also a health fair that included booths geared toward seniors. Among the booths was Teeniors, a local company that connects tech-savvy teens with seniors to empower them with skills to use cell phones, tablets and computers.

Food trucks, a car show and display of art pieces filled out the event.

The celebration was one of several events connected to the National Senior Games, which take place every two years and were held last year in Birmingham, Ala.

The New Mexico State Senior Games will take place in Albuquerque July 18-22. That event is a qualifier for next year’s National Senior Games. The New Mexico Senior Olympics staff is holding registration through Friday for next month’s event.

When Riker was speaking on Wednesday, he asked people to take out their phones to punch in a date in their respective calendars.

“June 14, 2019,” he said. “That’s when we’ll be here at the Civic Plaza for the flame arrival announcing the games. We will have a wonderful time.”

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