FINALIST 2014 – City of Vancouver Book Award
Part science book, part journey into the untapped potential of the human spirit, this is the remarkable story of a 94-year-old track and field champion (not retired).
Olga Kotelko is most certainly a genetic outlier, one of those rare, blessed people whose bodies resist the degradations of age. More remarkably, she's not alone; there are men and women all over the world competing at ages at which most of us will be lucky even to be alive. But her secret, and theirs, isn't just the luck of the gene pool. It's in the stories of how they exploit their genetic good fortune where the lessons for the rest of us may be found. Author Bruce Grierson, whose much-read 2010 New York Times Magazine piece first brought attention to Olga's remarkable story, accompanies the nonagenarian Canadian to track meets to see her in action, and to research facilities around North America where he and medical researchers hope to learn the secrets of her thriving tissues and age-resistant DNA. And perhaps most importantly, she welcomes him and us into her world, where we learn that your life might benefit most of all from how you live it.
Olga Kotelko took up track and field at age 77. Today, she holds 26 world records, setting most of them in 2009, the year she turned 90. Over a four-year period, journalist Grierson (U-Turn) accompanied Olga to meets and practices as well as to appointments with physiologists, geneticists, trainers, and others as they studied Olga's extraordinary achievements. Analyzing everything from Olga's life history, diet and daily routine, to her genetic makeup, brain, personality, bone density, aerobic capacity, muscles, sleep patterns, memory, and more, they found that although Olga is an outlier, there could be more people like her given the right circumstances. As Grierson explains, studies show how older athletes benefit from having started their sport later in life without the accumulated damage from early overexertion, and highlights conditions that worked in Olga's favor her active childhood on a farm in rural Saskatchewan, the way she has always integrated movement into her everyday life, and her intuition about her body. The middle-aged, fairly sedentary Grierson compares his exercise routines and his DNA to Olga's, portraying their growing friendship as he describes the mysteries of longevity and extols the benefits of exercise. Grierson's fellow boomers have much to learn from Olga's example, given that scientists now think that longevity is 70% 75% lifestyle and only 25% genetic.
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What makes Olga run
Heard the interview on CBC radio and had to read the book. Highly recommend it to all baby boomers who don't want to lose their marbles.