How 100-Year-Old Ida Keeling Turned Grief Into Fuel To Break Track & Field Records

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It’s never too late too fall in love with taking care of your health. And if you ask 100-year-old New Yorker Ida Keeling, it will help you live longer.

Keeling was profiled by the New York Times recently, and to say her story is inspiring is an understatement. Keeling has lived through a lot, including the Great Depression and the Civil Rights Movement, which she was heavily involved in, taking her children to Malcolm X speeches and traveling to the March on Washington in 1963 to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr speak. She watched some of the most tumultuous times come and go, but it wasn’t until such turbulence hit her personal life that she found herself in a place of stagnation and illness. As reported by the Times, Keeling lost two sons, both killed in cases that she believed were drug related. And as she grieved, she felt her health taking a dip, battling depression and dealing with a rise in her blood pressure. It took her daughter, Shelley Keeling, 64, to get her up and moving again.

Shelley, who has taught track and field for more than two decades, pushed her mother, who was quite the talented runner as a young woman, to try running again. After some coaxing, Ida found herself enjoying running all over again, and eventually (at the age of 67), signed up for a 5K in Brooklyn. It wasn’t easy, but she finished. As she told the Times, “Good Lord, I thought that race was never going to end, but afterwards I felt free. I just threw off all of the bad memories, the aggravation, the stress.” And that was the beginning of her new life as a runner. It immediately became more than a hobby. She travels often to make races, races that she’s often in alone, the only person usually still sprinting in her age group.

“Now I’m just chasing myself — there’s no one else to compete with,” Ida said. And to prepare for those races, she trains with her daughter, Shelley. On the roof of her apartment in the Bronx, Ida does push-ups, wall sits, shoulder presses and sprints. She also plays no games when it comes to her diet. That means limited amounts of meat, fresh grains and produce, no foods with preservatives, cod liver oil with breakfast, and, oh yeah, a shot of Hennessy (“This is putting gas in the car”).

This way of life has not only helped Ida set world records, which she did over the weekend in the 100-meter dash at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia (according to TIME, she “boasted a time of 1:17:33 in a race against others who were over 80 years old.”), but it’s also helped the 4-foot-6, 83-pound woman stay self-sufficient. And doesn’t plan to rely on anyone anytime soon. She’s too busy training for her races.

“I never want to go backwards,” she told the New York Times. “I’m a forward type of person.”

 

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