The torch paid tribute to Texas energy history as the Fitness Flame entered the Spindletop Gladys Boomtown museum complex to music from the classic motion picture Giant starring James Dean.
This was not our largest event but it was certainly one of the most spirited. Eight Senior Games athletes headed to the nationals in Houston were joined by others from the Beaumont Community that included an energetic group from the Best Years Senior Center, a recreation center operated by the City of Beaumont. Director Lynn Huckaby explained during our ceremony that this group was mostly comprised of folks who participate in tap and jazz dance programs at the center, so there were no shuffling feet with this crowd.
Two Beaumont residents were featured in the relay, and each added their own special element to the program. 72 year old runner Robert Kocot asked to bring along his son to help encourage him to stay fit and active. Both jogged their circuit around the 1900’s replica oil boomtown structures to applause from the gathering.
The other athlete, 58 year old Claudette Warren, is a school teacher who will compete in basketball and track in Houston. She moved there from Florida three years ago and when she didn’t find a lot of organized running for seniors, she recruited some of her teaching partners to come out and run with her, which makes her a great model to the local community. She was so excited that when her orbit of the complex was almost completed she waved her hand and took an extra lap! This delighted the others cheering her on.
Among the other qualified competitors was a married couple, “Butch” and Lillie Ryan, who traveled 50 miles from Iowa, Louisiana to have the chance to carry the torch.
Mayor Becky Ames was scheduled to appear but a last minute issue of city business prevented her from getting there. Fortunately City Councilman W.L. Pate was in attendance to officially welcome the torch to Beaumont and reminded everyone that Beaumont is the home of one of the greatest female Olympians in history. Mildred Ella "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias achieved outstanding success in golf, basketball, and track and field. She was named the 10th Greatest North American Athlete of the 20th Century by ESPN, and the 9th Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century by the Associated Press. Pate noted that “Babe” was born in 1911 making this a centennial celebration of her life.
“If Babe was here today I have no doubt she would be competing in the Senior Games,” Pate said, “She is a local hero and an example of physical fitness, like all of you carrying the torch today.”
Afterwards the Senior Games athletes posed for a photo in front of the Spindletop replica as it replayed its famous first “gusher” that signified the birth of the Texas oil and energy industry. What a way to end a great day of torch relay activity!