Pahrump resident Cathy Behrens was so excited to qualify for the National Senior Games and so fired up for the trip to compete in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that it seemed impossible for the experience to live up to the anticipation.
But it did.
Behrens swam the 50-meter freestyle in 1 minute, 9.80 seconds, good for 14th place in the 75-79 age group, but that’s a tiny part of the story.
“I was happy because I had a great time, not necessarily with the way I swam,” Behrens said. “I wish I could have swam better, but you have to remember something: This is the best of the best.”
Behrens was impressed and inspired by the quality of athletes she saw in Albuquerque, not just in swimming but throughout the competition.
“Of course I went to watch other athletes,” she said. “There was a woman there, 103, who ran track. She was the oldest, but there were lots of people in their 90s, lots of people in their 80s. It was so exciting to see. I’m a kid around these people. When you’re standing next to a woman who’s 96 and she’s in a swimming event …”
The kid from Pahrump had quite a 77th birthday, as it fell on the same day as the Celebration of Athletes, when some 14,000 competitors entered the stadium at the University of New Mexico grouped by state, to thunderous cheers.
“Everybody from the state of Nevada had a blue jacket on,” she recalled. “This was at a stadium, and every state’s athletes were together with their sweaters or T-shirts in their particular colors. Each state was called by the alphabet, starting with the A’s, and everyone marched in and there were big cheers.
“This fellow next to me was a runner, and he turns to me and says, ‘This is one hell of a birthday party.’ ”
But as much as she enjoyed that experience and, in fact, had been looking forward to it for weeks, one moment surpassed it for Behrens.
“Even better was the lighting of the torch,” she said. “If I had to pick out one thing, it was the lighting of the torch. There was a quite a large crowd outside in a courtyard in the downtown area. On the stage, they had a huge screen, like an outdoor theater. And what they showed was a train coming down the track, and it was live. On the back of the train was a woman in her 80s carrying the torch.
“The train stopped, and she handed the torch to a woman who ran maybe eight or 10 blocks, and she passed it on to someone else, and he ran eight or 10 blocks, and then it finally came to the last man, and he ran it into the park where we were. It was tear-jerking. We had the flags going and the torch coming in. He got up on the podium and made a little speech and then lit the torch. It was just exciting.”
Even better, athletes were allowed the opportunity to bring home a memento of that event.
“After things kind of broke up, you could go up to the torch and get your picture,” Behrens said. “So I did. And I love the picture.
“The Celebration of Athletes was good, too, but the lady with the torch was my highlight.”
While Behrens admitted there were a few glitches — try holding an event with 14,000 athletes, thousands of volunteers and thousands of spectators without any — she said she had such a wonderful time she didn’t even want to mention them, raving about everything from the quality of the Airbnb she stayed at to the other athletes she met and watched.
“I met women that were on a basketball team, and they were in their 80s,” she said. “They had these really bright uniforms, and they just looked great. There were people from other countries; Switzerland was there, Barbados was there. There was a woman in the swimming competition who was blind.
“All of these people looked good. They looked healthy, their brains were working. The woman who was 103 was unbelievable. She looked fantastic.”
But Behrens made sure to point out that they also looked good while competing. These weren’t people just happy to be on a track or a court or in a pool, although they were. They were competitive and wanted to win medals.
“They were mind-blowingly good,” she said. “They were just the best.”
The National Senior Games are held every two years, and the 2021 Games have crossed Behrens’ mind. This time around, everything was new and different. If she goes again, she’ll be much more prepared for the sights, sounds and competition.
“Will I do it again?” she said. “Maybe, I’m not sure. In 2021, it’s going to be in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and that’s not a bad place to go for a week.”