All over Costa Rica, people are on the move. They’re spinning, running, swimming, walking with dogs, walking without dogs, playing tennis, soccer, béisbol and more. People of all ages are becoming health-conscious and keeping fit as well as getting “unstressed.”
The polideportivo in Alajuela, northwest of San José, is just one of the sport complexes set up by different levels of government to add vim, vigor and fun to our lives. This one, located in Monserrat, an area behind the Mall Internacional, was built in 1987 for the national games held there that year.
After the games ended, the playing fields, track, gymnasium and Olympic-size pool remained. The complex is now run by the AlajuelaMunicipality.
All cantons have sport and recreation committees. Some are more elaborate and some are bare basics, depending on the whims and purses of the committees. Alajuelans are lucky; the CiruelasRiver and an avenue of trees on one border make their polideportivo cool and attractive.
The boulevard in front of the gym is for walking, pushing baby strollers, running, exercising dogs, biking, skateboarding and even wheelchair experts doing wheelies.
On weekends, families ride bikes together, skate, walk around the perimeter and watch the more daring do tricks on skateboards in the concrete bowl. It’s a comfortable and safe place to bring the kids with their scooters, bikes or skates. There is also a play area especially for children.
Also on weekends, sport teams, soccer,
speed skating, track and baseball get going, and there are benches for those whose sport activity consists of watching.
But it’s inside the gym that we see real action. Weekday mornings from 8 to 9 a.m., Rosa Isela Salazar leads a group of up to 60 people in aerobics. They are all ages and all sizes, mostly women, but a handful of men come regularly.
“Whoever comes joins in,” says Salazar, a certified aerobics teacher.
It’s totally free and there are no fancy clothes or tools for this sport, just “tennis shoes and comfortable clothes,” she adds.
A few come in snazzy, matching spandex outfits that stretch with the vigorous movements and are certainly becoming, but anything apart from tight jeans will do.
It’s not easy coordinating arms and legs with the rapid salsa, cumbia or merengue music. Just when you think you’ve got it together, Salazar calls out “avance,” and everyone marches forward and out of step until she calls “atrás.” It’s a wonder no one gets kicked or tangled up.
Aerobics classes are free. Some people come every day, others when they can.
Swimming in the 50-meter-long pool is inside lanes in one-hour sessions. Trainers are there to give pointers or to teach swimming lessons. A monthly fee of ¢4,000 ($7.30) covers twice-a-week swims; ¢6,000 ($11) a month gets you four times a week.
Sometimes sports centers host special events, such as the international chess tournament held at the Alajuela polideportivo in July. Chess is a sport in Latin America, and this tournament drew players from 17 countries, topnotchers from Europe, the United States, South America, Cuba and Israel. Chess is by far the quietest sport, even with 240 participants ranging in age from 6 to 83; they’re all concentrating on their next moves and nobody dares to talk, whistle or even crunch food.
Polideportivos give athletes a place to train and compete, on the track or in the ring, pool or field. At Monserrat, all activities are free except for swimming and classes.
There are sport installations and polideportivos throughout the country. The Palacio de Deportes in Heredia, north of San José, is right next to the soccer stadium. Around the Central Valley, Santo Domingo, San Antonio de Belén, Parque de la Paz and La Sabana Park have polideportivos, as do Cartago, east of the capital, the Southern Zone’s Pérez Zeledón, and Cañas, in the northwestern Guanacaste province.
To find out about sports programs near your home or place of work, contact your municipality.