In the dry Albuquerque, N.M, air, Ellen Jaffe Jones felt like she could not breathe.
The 67-year-old Lakewood Ranch resident was there for the 2019 National Senior Games (June 14-25), her third time at the event. Jaffe Jones, a runner, said she normally drinks 100 ounces of water a day — a major key to her success — but despite her hydration dedication, she felt parched in the Southwest heat.
Jaffe Jones said she discovered during practice runs that the elevation — 5,312 feet on average — affected her the most about halfway through a lap at the University of New Mexico’s track and field complex. It made it difficult to inhale, she said, but she pushed through the discomfort. Despite the challenges, Jaffe Jones persisted, and became one of two women in her age group (which had 77 participants) to compete in all seven track events: six individual events plus a 4x100 relay. The other was Minnesota's Elizabeth Foster, who was one of Jaffe Jones' teammates in the relay.
“I wanted to prove to people that I could do it,” Jaffe Jones said. “It wasn’t about winning. I gave an all-out effort the whole time.”
Jaffe Jones’ best finish in the individual events was 10th in the 800-meter (4:12.18) and 1,500-meter (8:48.62) runs. In the 100-meter and 200-meter races, she did not qualify for the finals, but she gave it her best shot. “I’m not a ‘sprint’ person,” she said.
In the relay, she chose the right teammates — literally.
Jaffe Jones said the Senior Games allows you to choose your teammates on the day of the race. She made friends with Foster, North Carolina’s Shirley Darden Gibson and Virginia’s Hannah Phillips, and since all four are fast, they decided to become a team. That foursome ran the 4x100 relay in 1:11.39, good for the gold medal. It was the final event of five days of track competition and sent Jaffe Jones home smiling.
“I’m proud that I didn’t die,” Jaffe Jones said with a laugh. "I was happy to get back to the humidity (of Lakewood Ranch) afterward."
She and all 13,817 National Senior Games athletes, 687 from Florida, deserve a round of applause. That is a 30% increase from the 2017 event in Birmingham, Ala. They are doing what they can to keep their competitive spirits alive.
They are getting out and bettering themselves. It is inspiring, as someone who typically wants to curl into a ball on the couch after a work day, to talk to people like Jaffe Jones, those who sacrifice the instant gratification of laziness for the delayed gratification of getting and staying in shape.
There is something for everyone at those games. If track and field is too difficult, there are opportunities to play the ever-popular pickleball, or even shuffleboard. Jaffe Jones said she hopes everyone dabbles in something, so that when the 2021 games come to Fort Lauderdale, the state can help set a new attendance record.
Jaffe Jones will be 69 then, at the top at her age group. She isn’t looking forward to that, she said, but she is looking forward to the competition.
How could she not be?