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Golden Games challenge stereotypes about aging

Adults over 60 are putting their skills to the test all over Costa Rica with the Juegos Dorados, or Golden Games. Participants are not only showing that they too can be competitive, but also challenging the stereotype of the older person as someone who is feeble, incapacitated, or content to sit in a chair all day – which is exactly what this national program hopes to prevent.

The Games, sponsored by the Costa Rican Institute for Sports and Recreation (ICODER) and the Social Security System, or Caja, are one aspect of a broader senior citizen wellness program that includes trips to swimming pools, aerobics, sports, dancing, writing poetry, learning to use new technology, and getting out and making new friends, all with the goal of helping older adults live healthy and active lives. Weekly meetings offer physical and mental stimulation through activities, field trips, classes and just plain fun; nutritious snacks and lunches are served to encourage a healthy diet.

The Golden Games – now in their 17th year, according to the Caja website – introduce competition and team spirit into the mix. At a time when adults over 60 may be retired from the work force, but are taking on jobs around their towns and barrios, these games are a way to show off to the public the “new older adult” and to give senior citizens a chance to show their stuff.

With the finals coming up in November, community groups are meeting for regional games in halls and gymnasiums to practice and get in shape. These sports may be less vigorous than those practiced at the high-school level, but still take steady nerves and concentration. They include miniature golf, ring toss with hoops and traffic cones, basketball with the basket at half mast, dominoes, dancing, and a half kilometer hike, plus activities such as arts and crafts and photography.

At the recent regional playoffs held in Quebradas de Alajuela, 400 older adults met and shared the competitive spirit and enthusiasm of any sporting event. Colorful T-shirts, some bearing slogas like Hilo de Plata  (silver thread) and Ancianos de Atenas (old folks of Atenas) identified the groups. There were a few canes seen among the crowd. At 8 a.m. a long line set off hiking the highway from the church to the Salón Comunal or community hall. A Red Cross ambulance followed along, just in case.

The action started off with all 400 in a circle for aerobic exercises and dancing, just to get warmed up. Even the few with canes or walkers joined in, and one man hitched his cane to his belt so that he could dance with a partner. Then an over-sixty folk dance troupe from Alajuela proved that handsome is also an adjective that befits the older generation.

A dance competition, penalty kick faceoff, basketball, hoop-tossing, bowling and other sports had the home teams cheering on. Prizes were surprises brought by the twelve participating groups.

Winners from the regional tournaments will compete at the national games at Nov. 6 at the fairgrounds in Palmares. Activities are open to everyone over 60, including foreigners, and the finals are open for visitors.

For more information, check with your local health clinic (EBAIS) or call 2539-0053, 2339-0052 or 2530-0954.

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