Fifty is Nifty

    Now that 50 is the new 40 (or is it 30?) we checked in with six Albuquerque residents celebrating this year. From surprise parties to quiet contemplation, celebrations ranged widely but they all had one thing in common — 50 is big but it sure doesn’t feel old.

Finding balance

    When he turns 50 on Nov. 5, Mayor Richard J. Berry won’t have a mid-life crisis — he had one in his 20s.

    “I was working 80 hours a week to make $17,000 a year,” he says. “Then I figured out you have to have some kind of balance.”

    Now, work is not exactly nine to five, but he makes sure to carve out time in the evening for his wife, Maria, and son, Jacob.

    For his birthday, Berry is planning a hunting trip with his son to Nebraska, where his family is from, just like he did for his 40th birthday.

    “I grew up around people who pushed a plow until they were in their 80s,” he says. “I never remember people making a big deal about this kind of stuff. My grandparents, my parents, we don’t really define lives by the year as much as how productive we are.”

    A former Lobos decathlete, Berry also played basketball and was a gymnast. Now, he lifts weights, walks, snowboards and waterskis. At 50, he is also taking on new creative hobbies, like art classes, practicing guitar and designing furniture.

    “I still feel like a very young man,” he says. “I’ve been blessed with a lot of energy.”

Living every day

    For Kelly Wascher, provider relations liaison at Lovelace Health System, every birthday is big, no matter what she does.

    Her Jan. 1 birthday was simple — food, family, friends and a little Elvis and Christian rock.

    In 2000, Wascher was diagnosed with Stage IV lymphoma. She had a 3-year-old, a 1-year-old and, suddenly, a lot of unknowns. She wasn’t sure she would turn 40, let alone 50.

    “Turning 50 certainly was a milestone and I am very grateful to be here,” she says. “Every year has been worth celebrating.”

    She did experimental treatments, chemotherapy and focused on nutrition, exercise and spirituality. This year, for the first time, she didn’t have to see a doctor every six months.

    As a registered nurse, Wascher finds inspiration from patients. Early in her career, she worked with a 70-year-old who broke his neck and became a ventilatordependent quadriplegic. She told him, “If you want to learn how to live in this body, we’re here for you.” Eventually, he asked her to teach him to live again. Ten years later, she was a guest at a party he threw for himself.

    Living through cancer makes her think every day about how she can make a difference or what she can teach her kids, Wascher says.

    “My life is really complete,” she says. “The most important thing is to live every day like it’s your last.”

Second act

    Whatever 50 is, Jeff Apodaca, vice president/general manager of Univision New Mexico, doesn’t feel like it. That’s lucky, because he has 4-year-old twins Asher and Gage to keep up with.

    “I understand why God wanted us to have kids in our 20s but at 50 I’m a better husband and father than I would have been at 25,” says Apodaca, son of former state Gov. Jerry Apodaca.

    While Apodaca is still a “competitive jock,” who does everything full throttle, he has slowed a bit. Now, he is more likely to do pushups with the boys on his back than play football with friends, although he still lets his competitive side out with frequent golf games.

    To celebrate his birthday on Feb. 16, Apodaca and his wife, Jackie, went to Santa Fe, where he saw the boys ski for the first time. He also proved he could still ski fast and hit the moguls hard.

    “There is nothing that I would do differently,” he says, “besides play golf earlier.”

New adventures

    Cecilia Gutierrez, owner of Dimestore Cowboys Inc., an online business specializing in handforged hardware, started her 50th on May 13 as she does every year — with prayer, meditation and a reminder to be grateful.

    Although the economy hit business hard, “in the big scheme of things, I’m healthy and I have everything I need today,” she says.

    She walks every day, meditates and practices yoga.

    “I’m really grateful for what my body can do,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Wow. I’m much more physically fit than I was when I was younger.’”

    On her birthday, she worked during the day then gathered with friends for pizza and key lime pie in the evening. Afterward, her 19-year-old son, Alan Bouhamdan, brought a “beautiful” card and letter and they spent time together.

    “It was a great day,” she says.

    Turning 50 feels like a surprise and an opportunity, Gutierrez says. In December, after years of occasional classes, she finished her associate degree. She now wants a bachelor’s degree and started an administrative position in the Office of the Secretary at the University of New Mexico.

    She also plans to travel — India and Nepal are on her radar — and maybe volunteer in Lourdes, France.

    Gutierrez is also focused on practicalities. When her mother died at age 53, she had arranged everything, giving the family time to mourn. Gutierrez wants to do the same for her son.

    “I want to put myself in a position where I’m not a burden,” she says.

Doing it big

    On March 30, Lynn Trojahn, vice president of ACCIÓN, a nonprofit that offers loans and training for small businesses, celebrated big but didn’t plan a thing.

    The weekend began when Trojahn headed to what she thought would be a quiet dinner with husband Craig. Instead, she found 17 friends, some whom she hadn’t seen in years. The next day, her husband organized spa time and surprised her with another 120 people at Seasons Rotisserie & Grill. Then, Trojahn, her husband and daughter, Rachel, went to Tucson for a quiet vacation.

    “I feel like my life is not the same after that party,” she says. “I feel so cherished.”

    Birthdays have always been big for Trojahn.

    Every year, her mother gives Trojahn and her sisters a piece of her grandmother’s jewelry. Now, Trojahn looks at the delicate watch on her wrist and remembers her grandmother.

    At 50, Trojahn is retreating from some of her type-A ways. For the first time, she shut off her Blackberry on vacation and cut back on weekend emails.

    Spending time with her father, Karl Koenig, before he died in January reminded her how important family is in her life. This year, she wants to savor what matters. That means golf with her husband, seeing a niece graduate from the eighth grade and taking a Zumba class once a week.

    “Fifty is a really good age,” she says. “I love what I’m doing, I’m passionate about my work and my family. I’m sure I’ll feel that way on my 60th too.”

Hoops forever

    Ed Nuñez, manager of the North Valley Senior Center, isn’t slowing down at 50. “I feel young still, outside of my aching knees,” says Nuñez, who turned 50 on April 19. “What do they say, 50 is the new 30?”

    Nuñez referees, coaches high school basketball and still shoots hoops Sundays with his son and friends.

    “That’s the link that keeps us together — the love of the game,” he says, of his son, Nick. “I can’t do what he can, but I don’t embarass him. I lasted to play with my boy, and there’s no greater thing.”

    Nuñez has also recently explored a passion 30 years in the making. At Eastern New Mexico University, he majored in broadcasting. He now talks sports with Henry Tafoya of KDEF (1150-AM) several times a week and offers color commentary in the basketball off-season.

    “It’s a blast,” he says. “I never thought I would get to use those skills.”

    As retirement calls in three years, Nuñez is eyeing his next step. He has worked for the city for 22 years, mostly in the Family and Community Services Department.

    “I’ve got to have a purpose for my feet to hit the ground every morning,” he says. “Touching people’s lives has been the thing for me.”

    He is also thinking of hobbies he can do with his wife, Dolores, like the golf lessons they took.

    “I want to do more things with my wife,” he says. “(She’s) my best friend, my partner.”


COURTESY OF KELLY WASCHER After battling Stage IV lymphoma, “I am very grateful to be here,” says Kelly Wascher. She celebrated her 50th birthday on Jan. 1.

Richard Berry

COURTESY OF RICHARD BERRY “I still feel like a very young man,” says Mayor Richard J. Berry, with his dog Skip in Angel Fire. The Albuquerque mayor turns 50 on Nov. 5.

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