Breckenridge Ski Resort instructor celebrates 90th birthday
January 7, 2017
On Jan. 5, a small group huddled together in the darkness of the Owner's Lounge at the Tiger Run RV Resort in Breckenridge. At 6 p.m., Tom Brennan was scheduled to walk in for a surprise birthday party. The room was littered with colorful balloons, and the only lights in the room were a few strands of multi-colored Christmas lights.
For the last 20 years, Brennan has been in Breckenridge teaching people how to ski. As he walked into the room, led by his girlfriend and party conspirator, Gloria Jenkins, his face lit up with a bright smile as the surprise unfolded before his eyes.
Shortly after, Brennan's locker partner at Breckenridge Ski Resort, Randy Brooks, stood to give a speech about Brennan, who was born in Queens, New York in 1927.
He ended his speech by saying that everyone in the room had at some point looked at Brennan and said, "That's what I want to be."
The veteran ski instructor was celebrating his 90th birthday.
For Brennan, the secret to staying young has always been about two things: surround yourself with young people and keep on doing what you love. He said that part of the reason he liked being around young people was that he always learns from them.
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"I've always believed that to be true," he said. "If you're doing something that you like to do, it will keep you young."
Brennan grew up in Queens. After the attacks on Pearl Harbor he enlisted in the Navy. At the age of 17 he served in the South Pacific, learning about radios and Morse code. He was stationed on a ship that transported tanks and marines.
After World War II ended, Brennan's family moved to Colorado Springs in 1947, where Brennan's father owned a printing company he had begun in New York. Brennan loved the small-town feel.
"I thought it was the best that could happen to me," Brennan said. "In New York you're a pebble on the beach."
Brennan eventually went on to get his degree from Colorado College in 1958. He studied sociology and criminology. He spent the next 36 years working for the town of Colorado Springs. As part of the parks and recreation department for the town, he started a youth hockey league. He also spent 19 years at the police academy, training officers.
While living in Colorado Springs he was introduced to a different kind of winter sport, one that would lead to what he called his "second life" — skiing.
Brennan was 35 when he learned to ski. His skills in the hockey rink were able to help him quickly pick up complicated stops. From there his obsession grew. He taught skiing at the Broadmoor Hotel for 18 years before the ski mountain closed in 1991.
He traveled as a ski instructor for a time before settling in Keystone and later Breckenridge. He met his girlfriend, Gloria Jenkins, through the Silver Streaks senior ski club. The couple has been stirring up trouble on the slopes for the 12 years since.
When the snow melts on the hills, they stay in shape by swing dancing in Dillon. Brennan said that he learned to dance in high school and at the party, guests had the opportunity to see Brennan and Jenkins give a quick swing dance performance.
"These two are our inspiration," said Jane Hamlin, who teaches ski instructors at the Breckenridge Ski School.
Hamlin said that many of the instructors in the Beaver Run crew at Breck had been working together for years and the tight knit group has become more than friends.
"We're a family is what we are," she said.
The sentiment was tangible as party-goers swapped stories on Brennan and his days on the slopes. Brennan himself never dropped his ear-to-ear grin.
"We always try to laugh," said Jenkins.
Patrick Guilbert, from Breck Guides, helped to host the party. He said that Brennan and Jenkins were some of few people who learned not only how to live life, but to love it. Although Brennan is 90, he still works as hard as ever, said Guilbert. He added that Brennan shows up early and is one of the last to leave when the day is done.
"That's unique," Guilbert said.
As for Brennan, he was "flabbergasted" that a party had been planned under his nose.
"This is the best day of my life," he said.
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