Success is found in smiles over croquet

Game brings generations together, boosts dementia patients

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James Creasey figures he has helped initiate 400,000 smiles since he started Jiminy Wicket five years ago. This year he wants to accomplish 2½ times that.

The organization, which brings together generations over the game of croquet to positively impact those suffering from different forms of dementia, was founded after Creasey experienced a breakthrough with his own father over a game six years ago.

“I had no idea what I was going to do with my father in the silence and the confusion that he was experiencing,” Creasey said. “It terrified me.”

While vacationing in his native England with his father and mother, Creasey, who had never played croquet with his father growing up, discovered there was a course at the resort where they were staying and thought a game might be a good idea.

What an idea it turned out to be.

“I took him up there after breakfast on the first day,” Creasey said. “As he hit the ball, he smiled, and I thought, ‘Whoa, this is all right.’”

Creasey played with his father every day for two weeks and commissioned his brother to buy him a croquet set once vacation was over and Creasey returned to Denver.

“I started getting emails and phone calls from my nephews and my nieces saying, ‘This is incredible, we don’t have to just sit in the silence with papa anymore.’

“After that I started this program with the Alzheimer’s Association here in Colorado to see if I could put a smile on a few more faces. I thought if I could make a half-dozen more people smile, I’d die a happy man.”

Creasey wasn’t satisfied with a half-dozen people, though, and now has his sights on achieving a million smiles between two generations over croquet — this year alone.

On Sept. 20, one day before World Alzheimer’s Day — and the four-year anniversary of his father’s death — Creasey was at the Rockefeller Center in New York City launching the “Through Hoops to Hope” program to pair Alzheimer’s patients with high school students in 100 schools from coast to coast. Forty of those schools, including Kent Denver and Regis Jesuit, are located in Colorado.

None of this would have happened, however, without Roy and Fay Whitney. When Creasey ran out of funding to take his program any further, the couple, who live part-time at Vi at Highlands Ranch, stepped forward and provided him with enough funding to keep his program going and take it to the next level.

“It’s nice to share with people who are further down the line than you are,” said Roy. “At our age it’s easy to say, ‘I don’t know what the next 10 years are going to bring.”

Fay, who has spent 50 years as a nurse and is the professor emeritus of the Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing at the University of Wyoming, is in for another reason. 

“I’ve been working with the elderly for a long time, and now I am one,” she said. “One of the things I have noted in taking care of people with Alzheimer’s or dementia is that they are isolated, not just by themselves, but by everyone.”

The program helps eliminate that isolation, by providing social engagement, physical exercise and cognitive stimulation for the seniors. It also brings smiles to all involved, and that, Creasey says, is how, “when there is no language, no words, no ability to string a sentence together,” one can tell it is working.

For background and information about Jiminy Wicket, go to www.jiminywicket.org

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