The National Senior Games wrapped up in Albuquerque last week with solid representation from Valencia County.
Five local athletes earned medals, including one gold medal as Belen’s Helen Abeyta and the New Mexico Canyonettes took first in the 80-plus division for 3-on-3 basketball.
An Oklahoma native who moved to Belen when she was 21 years old, Abeyta didn’t begin playing basketball until she was “about 55 or 60.” She began playing for exercise, but she eventually joined a team. A highlight for her was the final game.
“We had a lot of support watching us win,” said Abeyta. “This is the first time I’m aware of us winning the national event (in basketball) for any age group.”
Other placers were Jerry Olguin (silver in the 200-meter), Mary Radcliffe (silver in the 400-meter), Phil Gregory (silver in the high jump, bronze in the discus and hammer throw) and Elizabeth Von Tol (bronze in discus). For Olguin and Gregory, 2019 marked their last trip to National Senior Games.
“It was going competing close to home,” said Olguin. “I’ve been running for quite a while.”
Olguin’s atheltic career goes back to his high school days in Socorro, where he played baseball, football, basketball and track.
At the senior games, Olguin expected to place first in the 100-meter, but scheduling conflicts prevented him from competing in the event. Placing second in the 200-meter run was still a highlight for him.
Gregory, who set a state record in the high jump, said competing at a national level means more to him.
However, after 58 years of athletic competition, he is ready to hang up his shoes and focus on his service with the Valencia County Senior Olympic board.
“Those medals were the icing on the cake,” said Gregory. “I encourage other seniors to get out and do the activities.”
Abeyta expressed similar advice to seniors in the community.
“I’ve been doing Senior Olympics ever since they started in New Mexico,” Abeyta said. “My advice to seniors is to stay active and have fun doing it.”