Whether they’re running, swimming or playing badminton, Albuquerque is preparing for an influx of athletes for the 2019 National Senior Games – a record number, it turns out.
Mayor Tim Keller, joined with city officials, Senior Games coordinators and dozens of athletes, announced at a news conference Saturday that this year’s Senior Games will be the largest in history, with 13,712 registered athletes. That surpasses the previously held record of 12,000 participants during the 1999 games in Orlando, Fla., and 2007 games in Louisville, Ky.
The mayor said the vast number of people coming to Albuquerque and central New Mexico will make this the second-largest event hosted by the state, after the Balloon Fiesta.
“It’s all about the fitness, the fun and the fellowship between the athletes and everyone else involved,” said National Senior Games CEO Marc Riker.
The Senior Games is the largest multisport event in the world for men and women over the age of 50.
The large number of people traveling for the games is estimated to bring in $17 million in direct spending, and $34 million in economic impact, said Tania Armenta, the president and CEO of Visit Albuquerque.
Competitors will travel from all 50 states to compete in the event, which will be June 14 to 25. New Mexico will have the largest delegation, with 1,516 people competing, Riker said.
Anthony Romero, associate director of senior affairs of Albuquerque, attributes the large increase in attendance to intense outreach to different state games by the organizing committee. He said the inclusion of power walking as a new sport with no requirements to compete at the national level has also attracted some attention.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for people to compete without a qualification,” Romero said.
For some, the national competition is an outlet for a long-term love of sports.
“I’ve loved sports since I was a little kid, and now we get to keep playing, we don’t have to stop,” said 66-year-old Karen Rogers, who will compete in badminton and softball at the national games.
She initially got involved with the New Mexico Senior Games in 2012, but this will be the first time she competes on a national level.
Rogers said she is looking forward to meeting many new people, and she urges others to get involved with the organization.
“Come on out and meet us, and you’ll love it,” Rogers said.
Another first-time national participant, 60-year-old Miriam Seward, said she was convinced to start participating in the games by her husband, and now she hopes to earn a gold medal in track for New Mexico. She will compete in the 400 meter, 800 meter and 1,500 meter races.
Competitive running is nothing new to Seward, who said she qualified for the Olympics in track and field when she was 13, but was unable to compete due to her age.
She hopes that her participation will encourage others to try something new.
“I’m trying to show young people you’re never too late to do something in life,” she said, “you can make life changes.”