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Nearly 14,000 athletes in town for 2019 National Senior Games

Pauline Lente, 59, and her mother Alberta Lente, 96, both of Isleta Pueblo, are each competing in their respective age divisions in shuffleboard at the 2019 National Senior Games taking place in and around Albuquerque between Friday and June 25. (Greg Sorber/Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

It was about five years ago that Alberta Lente faced a timeless parenting dilemma.

Should she let her daughter beat her in something she’s clearly better at than the child?

But Lente wasn’t just some mom teaching her daughter some random game.

Alberta Lente is a feisty 96-year-old shuffleboard whiz from Isleta Pueblo who has more than 100 medals on display in her home.

On Tuesday, Alberta Lente beamed when talking about being one of the nearly 14,000 athletes – including her shuffleboarding pupil and 59-year-old daughter, Pauline – who are converging on Albuquerque this week to participate in the 2019 National Senior Games.

“She’s here to win, for sure,” said Pauline Lente, sitting next to her mother, who was grinning and proudly wearing the gold medal she won in shuffleboard during the 2015 Cleveland games.

The mother-daughter duo will both go for gold in shuffleboard over the next couple of weeks in their respective age divisions. For Pauline, who only took up the sport in recent years, maybe that’s a good thing.

“I beat her once, but I think it was because it was my birthday,” said the daughter.

Mom quickly chimed in with a confirmation.

“I felt sorry for her,” Alberta Lente said. “I knew she’d be very upset if I didn’t let her win, so I had to let it go at least one time.”

The games kick off Friday morning at 7 a.m. with a reported 13,712 athletes competing in a variety of events at one of 21 venues in and around Albuquerque.

Mayor Tim Keller on Tuesday rattled off the nuts and bolts numbers that his office and the National Senior Games Association have compiled, including verifying this is the largest event in NSGA history (the 2007 event had 12,000 participants).

With that many competitors and an estimated 25,000 non-competing visitors to the city as a result of the event, the economic impact could be as much as $34 million, Keller said.

“This is the largest event our city has hosted, to our knowledge, other than Balloon Fiesta,” Keller said, adding that “about” a third of all employees at City Hall have a role in some capacity in the games, which conclude June 25.

Aside from the competition itself, an introductory press conference on Tuesday held a familiar theme among the local athletes involved beyond the competition itself.

“So much of the media has represented New Mexico, and in particular Albuquerque, in a negative light – let’s face it, highlighting only what’s bad,” said multi-event participant and past national gold medal winner Mary Homan. She’s also the mayor pro tem of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque.

“We’re our own worst enemy too many times. This is an opportunity for New Mexico, and especially Albuquerque, to highlight all that is good. That’s what we really experience here. That’s what we live in New Mexico for. We love the people. We love the environment. We love the culture. This is an opportunity to showcase all of that.”

Her teammate on the High Desert Diamonds softball team added that not only do the games give the country an opportunity to see New Mexico, but for New Mexico to witness the high-level competition from around the country.

“I think a lot of people who think of senior as 50-, 60-, 70-year-olds are going to be really surprised to see these 80-, 90-, 100-year-olds compete,” said Paula Larez. “They’re not just here. They compete.”

That includes one of the Games marquee participants, Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins, the 103-year-old world record holder in the 100-meter dash, who set the mark for her age group (a group of one for now) at the National Senior Games in 2017. Her time was 39.62 seconds.

“She’s back now,” said NSGA CEO Marc Riker. “… But she has competition. There is another 100-year-old woman in the race. It will be a showdown you don’t want to miss Tuesday at 9:15 a.m. Out at the track at University of New Mexico.”

For Albuquerque husband and wife Ann and Richard Harrison, 86- and 91-year-old respectively, the games are about much more than winning medals.

“You might say you want to get in shape or do something, but this actually gives you the chance to get out and do it,” said Ann Harrison, a swimmer. “It’s a way of keeping you more healthy.”

And to hammer the point home, the couple pointed out that Richard, a 91-year-old pickleballer, among other events, has only missed two NSGA events in the past 15 years – once when he had a heart attack and once when battling cancer.

“With him, at 91, he’s had cancer and (he had the heart attack), but because he stays so active it has helped him so much before (the illness) and after (in the recovery),” Ann Harrison said.

Added Richard, “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose in the games because if you’re just out staying active for this, your health is already going to be good. That’s already a win.”

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