I was so happy to read this story last week on WBUR.com about my hero, track star Olga Kotelko. I’ve written about her before and I’d describe her as, wow, what are the words here?, let’s go with this — THE definition of fabulous. She is 94, winning races, seizing the day, and literally and figuratively going strong. I’ll say it – I want to be her in say, 50 or so years . After all, what’s cooler than a fearless, bright-eyed and involved in life old lady? Georgia O’Keefe, I think I have a friend for you.
The WBUR piece was an interview with Bruce Grierson, who just wrote a book about Olga, What Makes Olga Run. In it she shares her wisdom about living a long and HAPPY life. So is her secret genetics or being a health nut? Says Grierson, “The rule of thumb is that longevity is two-thirds nurture and one-third nature – only a third of it is our genes and the rest is how we lived, and what we’ve been through, and our habits and our thoughts, and what we’ve done with the hand that we’ve been dealt.” She has played that hand amazingly -
Here are her rules:
- Look forward to each birthday! Celebrate!
- ENJOY the ride. Olga’s mantra is “laugh at yourself.” Lighten up and remember to play. Working out, specifically, should not be drudgery. Olga jokes around on the track and zips about like a kid would, jumping, running, throwing. If you’re going to stick with fitness for the long haul, it has to be fun, so mix it up and keep discovering new be moves and sports. (Zumba, anyone????)
- Talk about “Just Do It” — Olga lives this. We know that when it comes to aging, “use it or lose it” applies — muscles that aren’t used will decay at an alarming rate. Olga proves that by staying active, mobility and quality of life are extended. This gal is going places, instead of being wheel-chair bound and inactive. Motion begets motion -
- To stay strong and mobile, Olga keeps up her resistance training and incorporates planks and weights into her workouts, instead of focusing on long slow aerobic workouts, like running. Intervals, baby. They do a body good.
- Olga started track at age 77. Yes, 77. It interested her and she gave it whirl…and she was NOT a star when she first laced up her sneakers. In fact, it took her seven or eight years to get really good at track. Says Grierson, “She was pretty good right out of the gate, but it was in her mid-80s that she really went for it and got a really powerful training regime going. It took her seven or eight years to hit her stride. And that’s what they say about anyone learning a new skill, it’s supposed to take about that long. And that made me think, ‘Wow, OK, so that’s eight years out of your life to become a new person and do a new thing and have this new life. What if we chopped our own lives up into eight-year segments, then we each get 10 lives. You could do something totally different every eight years and get really good at it…’ The inspiring idea is to ask, ‘Where are my opportunities to grow?’ She asks that still, even in her mid-90s: ‘What are the opportunities here?’”
And this last idea, my friends, stopped me cold and really got to me. That’s a really big idea, and it rather hit me over the head, perhaps because it reminded me of another inspirational woman, one I was very close with, my Grandma Ethel. Grandma was a rare individual who was a wonderful combination of curiosity, energy and confidence – if something interested her, it didn’t occur to her not to try it. Why not? I don’t think she ever questioned if she dared to eat the peach - she just did, and savored, and enjoyed. My Uncle Jerry really nailed when he described her journey in life as walking into a room and assuming people would like her. What freedom! And they did! Grandma ran the family business, raised her kids, and on the side took up pottery in her 40′s, rallied her Boston area Jewish community to build neighborhood temple (with her partner in crime, Michael Bloomberg’s mom, Charlotte), volunteered and fund-raised for charities, and continued to try new things and be engaged in life to the very end. She thought sculpting would be fun and learned to carve marble in her 60′s and in her 70′s and 80′s was belting out tunes as the lead in her retirement community’s musicals. What I’m trying to say is, whatever it was, she went for it. Wow. Love.
And so, in that spirit, I just signed up for a music theory class so I can finally really learn to read music and upgrade my sight reading skills. It’s going to take a while – let’s hope less than 8 years – until I can really read scores (instead of faking it!) but I love singing and I miss it in my life so let’s do this! Instead of moping about how competitive NYC choruses are, I’m making moves. If Olga can start track at 70 something I should be able to step up and learn this language. In fact, according to her example, I should be able to learn a number of life enriching skills before this ride ends. Maybe painting, maybe Spanish, maybe learning to compete in rodeo – who cares! Let’s strive to keep life long and interesting, shall we? It is certainly not too late. No way, no day. What’s your passion? What makes you feel alive? I’d love to hear.xxoo Steph