Members of the Chaves County delegation to the New Mexico Senior Olympics march in the Parade of Athletes at the opening ceremonies for the 35th annual games at NMMI’s Stapp Parade Field, Wednesday. (Kevin J. Keller Photo)
Colorful flags rippled in the wind Wednesday evening at New Mexico Military Institute’s Stapp Parade Field as the 35th Annual New Mexico Senior Olympics Summer Games kicked off with an opening ceremony.
This year’s games feature 900 athletes from all over the state competing in 90 events for 26 sports. Roswell last hosted the games in 1988.
The ceremony began with the Parade of Athletes — competitors grouped by county crossed the field, decked out in alien antennae and colorful wigs, blowing noisemakers as onlookers cheered them on.
Athletes from Isleta Pueblo sprayed New Mexico Senior Olympics Executive Director Cecilia Acosta with silly string as they approached the stage.
“I am elated that you are in my hometown,” Acosta told athletes, who cheered in response.
Mayor Del Jurney also welcomed athletes and read a proclamation in honor of the games. He said it was a thrill for the Roswell community to host this year and told Olympians “we hope and pray that your participation is fruitful.”
He also encouraged the community to recognize the example set by participating athletes for all citizens.
Gino Renaldi, secretary of the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department read a proclamation on behalf of Gov. Susana Martinez, who said she is a big supporter of the games.
“We at the Senior Olympics are very excited about what is going on this week,” said New Mexico Senior Olympics Inc. Chairman Vernon Dyer, noting the games had been fortunate to get proficient coordinators.
The event’s staff and volunteers are committed, he said, and have worked hard to “put on an affair worth coming to.”
Eastern New Mexico Medical Center CEO Maridel Acosta served as the event’s guest speaker and told the crowd there are many ways of measuring success and that life is “not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”
Ernesto Ramos, who founded the games in 1979, presided over an Eternal Flame Remembrance to honor “athletes who have gone to a better place.” As Ramos read the names of past competitors, Dyer rang a bell for each.
“Remember them in your prayers,” Ramos said.
At age 94, Gertrude Wolschon of Las Cruces was recognized as being the games’ eldest competitor. Mary Kirsling of Torrance County and Walter Baker of Dona Ana County were recognized as Golden Athletes and Pat Schear of Chaves County received the Courage Award.
After a flash mob dance routine from Enhance Fitness, athletes held a torch relay, running the torch of the games around the field.
“The flame represents so much to all of us,” Acosta said.
Dyer led athletes in an oath to be sportsman-like, supportive of each other and to not dwell on winning or losing.
“Let the games begin,” he said, as red and gold balloons were released into the night sky.