Bolivian grandmothers stay fit with handball

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EL ALTO, Bolivia —

Dozens of traditional Aymara grandmothers ease many of the aches and pains of aging by practicing a sport that is decidedly untraditional in Bolivia — team handball.

The women, some of them great-grandmothers, arrive with their tennis shoes every Wednesday at a covered court in El Alto, an impoverished city near the capital of La Paz.

Known in the Aymara language as “awichas,” or grandmothers, the women pull sports jerseys over their long-sleeved blouses and ruffled skirts, then perform warm-up exercises while singing a childhood song.

“There are days my knees hurt from rheumatism, but when I play it goes away,” said 77-year-old Rosa Lima, who first began doing simple exercises eight years ago, then later took up team handball. She lives alone and looks forward to playing with her friends every week.

In this Jan. 28, 2105 photo, Rosa Lima plays handball with other elderly Aymara indigenous women in El Alto, Bolivia. “There are days my knees hurt from rheumatism, but when I play it goes away,” said 77-year-old Lima, who first began doing simple exercises eight years ago, then later took up team handball. She lives alone and looks forward to playing with her friends every week. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
In this Jan. 28, 2105 photo, Rosa Lima plays handball with other elderly Aymara indigenous women in El Alto, Bolivia. “There are days my knees hurt from rheumatism, but when I play it goes away,” said 77-year-old Lima, who first began doing simple exercises eight years ago, then later took up team handball. She lives alone and looks forward to playing with her friends every week. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Team handball is an Olympic sport in which two teams of pass a ball using their hands with the aim of throwing it into the other’s goal. The games the grandmothers participate in are part of a program that El Alto sponsors to encourage older people to stay healthy by remaining active.

About 1,000 older people practice sports, play Andean music and recall their younger years through the program that also provides free medical care to around 10,000 participants. The program so far has spread to six of El Alto’s 14 districts.

In this Feb. 4, 2105 photo, 72-year-old Aurea Murillo prepares to make a pass during a handball match among elderly Aymara indigenous women in El Alto, Bolivia. Murillo said now that her children are grown she's dedicating time to herself and that playing handball makes her feel good. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
In this Feb. 4, 2105 photo, 72-year-old Aurea Murillo prepares to make a pass during a handball match among elderly Aymara indigenous women in El Alto, Bolivia. Murillo said now that her children are grown she’s dedicating time to herself and that playing handball makes her feel good. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Bolivia Grandmothers Handball Photo Essay Bolivia Grandmothers Handball Photo Essay

“This helps us a lot, says Juana Poma, an 84-year-old great-grandmother of five. “Look, I’m full of life, but I’m also thinner.”

In this Feb. 11, 2105 photo, 84-year-old Juana Poma stands in the goal area during a handball game among elderly Aymara indigenous women in El Alto, Bolivia. “This helps us a lot, said Poma, a great-grandmother of five, referring to playing handball. “Look, I’m full of life, but I’m also thinner.” (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
In this Feb. 11, 2105 photo, 84-year-old Juana Poma stands in the goal area during a handball game among elderly Aymara indigenous women in El Alto, Bolivia. “This helps us a lot, said Poma, a great-grandmother of five, referring to playing handball. “Look, I’m full of life, but I’m also thinner.” (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

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