Clifford E. Junkins

Clifford E. Junkins Named Nation's Most Inspirational Athlete

At 74 years old, Clifford E.10 Junkins (Elmer Leonard8, Leonard Putnam7, John H.6, Joseph5, James4, Joseph3, Alexander2, Robert1) of Holyoke, MA was awarded our nation's "2001 Most Inspirational Athlete Award." He has reaped more than a dozen medals for his bicycling, swimming and ping-pong prowess.

A lifelong resident of Holyoke, MA, Cliff has attended the National Vetrans Golden Age Games for the past 11 years—and he does not plan to stop anytime soon. For his team spirit and dedication, Cliff's team members from the Northhampton Affairs Medical Center nominated him to receive the George Gangi Most Inspirational Athlete Award. Named after a late participant of the games, the award is given to a vetran who exhibits fitness, sportsmanship and competitive skills.

Cliff was surprised to receive the award at the games' closing ceremony in Dunconville, TX on June 15, 2001. Team coach and medical center exercise therapy assistant, Michael S. Benedisk, endorsed Clifford's nomination for the award. "He is alwaybs positive, willing to help and putting himself second," he said. "Everyone thought Cliff was deserving of the award."

Cliff is also a key member on another team, one that includes his wife of 53 years, Mary Jo. A devoted husband, Cliff is never without her. Because of his wife's declining health, which requires that she use a wheelchair and constant oxygen, Cliff tends to her every need—both at the Games and at home.

"He is the ultimate caregiver," says Mary Jo and describes him as "always very helpful." Both Cliff and Mary Jo relish coming to the Golden Age Games each year and have come to know many of the other competitors.

To accommodate Mary Jo's oxygen needs, they must travel by train—a long haul from MA to TX. Cliff helps the team raise funds needed to attend the Games, and goes to the other members' events. Cliff has tirelessly tended to his wife while simultaneously earning medals in grueling events. When he is not competing himself, he makes sure to cheer on his teammates, all the while providing a truly positive example for the Golden Age Games. Cliff is indeed one determined and self-sufficient man. During the Games, when the bolt on his hotel door got stuck and the hotel maintenance hadn't yet arrived, he climbed out the window himself, in search of help. He didn't want to miss his table tennis event, and fortunately his room was on the first floor.

Cliff, a Navy vetran of World War II, usually competes in swimming, table tennis, and bicycling, although a recent medical procedure meant he could not swim this year. While he has collected his share of gold, silver and bronze medals since he started attending the Golden Age Games in 1990, he says the opportunity to meet the other vetrans is most important to him.

"I am humbled when I see and visit with other vetrans who have injuries much worse than mine, and see their courage to complete no matter how difficult it may be," Cliff says. "I am proud to be able to visit with them." His favorite aspect of the Games is "the spirit of these fellows and ladies who are so determined. It makes me see how fortunate I am, and they give me the incentive to compete. I have to ask, 'If they can do it, why can't I?".

Born and raised in Holyoke, MA, Cliff lives with Mary Jo in the house he was born in. After the service, Cliff worked in construction, then began teaching in a vocational school. He returned to school at the age of 40 to earn his degree in Occupational Education at Westfield State College. Because he was teaching during the day, it took him seven years to finish, but the education paid off. He taught in the same school for many years until his retirement. In recent years he has not only helped to attend to Mary Jo's needs, but also cared for his ailing father and a mentally disabled son, Allan. He is equally proud of his older son, David, and his three grandchildren.

Cliff and Mary Jo are charter members of JFA and they have served as Directors for many years. Their son David Junkins is Treasurer of JFA. Cliff and Mary Jo both worked for a full week, each year for four years on the restoration of the Alexander Burial Ground in York, at the site of the Junkins Garrison. They have not missed a reunion since the first one held at York, ME in 1990.

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