Seventy eight-years-young referee Henrietta Apodaca still plans to get back on the pitch
Henrietta Apodaca has been involved in soccer most of her adult life. She discovered the sport watching her nieces compete in Colorado in 1969 and quickly became an addict.
Nearly four decades later, Apodaca has a laundry list of accomplishments culminating with her reception of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Colorado Soccer Association and her induction into the Colorado Soccer Hall of Fame for her work as a board member of the Cherry Creek Lightning, coach and – perhaps most impressively – as a referee.
“I saw the linesman standing on the side of the field the entire game and thought, ‘I can do that,’” Apodaca said regarding her decision to become a referee.
The choice would have been a remarkable for a 30-year-old woman today, but Apodaca’s decision came at the age of 60.
“For me it’s really interesting that someone took up refereeing later in life,” said Apodaca’s niece Angela Davidson herself a former soccer player at the University of Northern Colorado. “She didn’t just referee young kids. She was pulling centers as well as working the sidelines for high school games and in the men’s Mexican soccer league.”
Cancer and forced absence
Apodaca patrolled the sidelines and ran the pitch as a center referee for 17 years, until an unexpected diagnosis truncated her career.
“For the longest time she thought it was kidney stones,” Davidson said. “The pain became pretty intense and that’s when she finally went to see a doctor and they found a mass on her liver.”
This wasn’t Apodaca’s first battle with cancer as she had overcome a breast cancer diagnosis earlier in life as well, Davidson added.
“Up until I got my illness I was able to run the length of the football field,” said Apodaca, who was also the oldest female referee in Colorado prior to her diagnosis.
At 78 years of age now, Apodaca carries the same slight built she had during her 17 years on the soccer field and has been placed under hospice care; according to Davidson, however, Apodaca does not let on that she is ill.
“You wouldn’t know it,” Davidson said.
Much of that resiliency Apodaca accredits to her faith.
“It didn’t bother me in the least bit,” Apodaca said of learning that her cancer had spread to her liver. “I’ve had so many accomplishments in my life and I’ve done so much and I’m 78, so basically it really did not bother me at all and I guess it has to do with my faith.”
Apodaca grew up catholic and is still involved with her church community, including her support at the St. Rafka Maronite Church in Denver.
“I did everything there,” Apodaca said. “I took care of the church, I took care of the house. I did everything, but mass.”
One of Apodaca’s more gratifying experiences came in 2014 when she received her Hall of Fame induction.
“It was a big surprise to me when I was nominated and when I was inducted into the hall,” she said. “I had just come out of the hospital, so it lifted my spirits up like you wouldn’t believe.”
Remembering the past, planning for the future
As far as her experiences on the pitch Apodaca added that there are several that stand out for her, but most of the gratification comes from knowing she did a job well done.
“For my 75th birthday I was reffing in a three-day tournament, and some of the coaches have gotten to know me over the years, so after my last game the coach from Fort Collins came up to me and said, ‘the girls would like to take their picture with you,’” Apodaca said. “And then both teams came up to me and sang happy birthday to me.”
Though under hospice care, Apodaca said she is not ready to give up on being a referee just yet.
“Right now I’m working on getting back up my strength,” she said. “I’m going to the rec center and am doing a lot of walking, because I really want to go back to reffing.”