Thriving in the Senior Games

Thriving in the Senior Games

The Kaiser Permanente-sponsored Sonoma Wine Country Games promote healthy, active aging — and for 3 seniors in particular, a transformation of body, mind, and spirit. Pictured above, Zarka Popovic (left) and Ratka Mira Popovic (right). 

by Anna Fiddler

In grief counseling at Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center, sisters Ratka Mira and Zarka Popovic heard advice that would forever change their lives.

“The counselor said, ‘Go out and find something to help take you out of your grief,’” Ratka Mira recounted.

The sisters had recently lost their father to cancer in the winter of 2013. And for Ratka Mira, her husband from a sudden heart attack just 3 months before.

The sisters soon remembered a childhood interest: lawn bowling. Growing up in Oakland, they had always loved watching the bowlers at the Oakland Lawn Bowling Club by Lake Merritt.

“I said, ‘This is the time! Let’s start checking off our childhood bucket list!’” said Ratka Mira.

“We took to the sport like ducks to water,” said Zarka. “I don’t want to say our grief lifted, but it became redirected.”

Through their involvement with the club, they heard about the Sonoma Wine Country Games. Kaiser Permanente has been the principal sponsor since the inception of the games 7 years ago.

“The games fall into place with Kaiser Permanente’s commitment to support healthy, fit, and active seniors,” said Carl Campbell, public affairs director for Kaiser Permanente Northern California Marin-Sonoma.

This year the games take place June 2 – 18 and are open to anyone 50 and over interested in friendly and spirited competition. There are 20 different sports to choose from, such as archery, golf, and tennis.

“They really do card you to make sure you’re over 50,” laughed Zarka.

This is the second year the sisters will participate in the games, and they plan to make it an annual tradition.

“There are so many different athletes in a variety of disciplines. You really get a feeling that life can remain active for a long time,” said Ratka Mira.

And as a Stage 4 cancer survivor, participating in the games is especially meaningful to Zarka.

“As a cancer patient, you’re encouraged to do moderate exercise — and that also works for grief. When you’re grieving, or battling a disease, people don’t often know how to talk to you. So being a part of this community has really made me feel not as isolated.”

Richard Harmon in a long jump

Richard Harmon in a long jump

Beginning of a New Life Chapter

Richard Harmon suffered from debilitating migraines for most of his life.

“I would have to go into a dark room until it subsided. I missed time with my kids. It was hard to leave the house,” Harmon said.

But then he sought care at Kaiser Permanente Martinez Medical Offices, and got the right medication that made the migraines stop all together.

“It was a whole new world. I was able to go about living,” Harmon recounted.

Having always loved sports and physical activity, Harmon started going to the gym frequently. A decade later, he decided to look for more of a physical challenge.

“I saw an advertisement for the Sonoma Wine Country Games and decided to go out and see if I could long jump — at age 62. I’m happy to report that I could and haven’t looked back since.”

Harmon now regularly competes in track and field events around the country — almost 10 times a year.

“The games are designed to encourage everyone to participate. Some people who are not in great physical shape sign up to run 200 meters — so they jog it! But their participation is appreciated by all,” Harmon said. “My life has totally been enriched by the games.”

“After years of watching the events, I realized that the games are more than just promoting active living,” said Campbell. “There’s a psychological and emotional aspect. These athletes all come away with deep feelings of fulfillment.”

For more information about the Sonoma Wine Country Games, and to register, please visit their website.