What's the secret to aging? Ask a 94-year-old track star

A 94-year-old track star from West Vancouver has become a poster child for staying active and is the subject of a new book about aging.

Bruce Grierson wrote What Makes Olga Run? after studying Kotelko's physiology

Olga Kotelko is a 94-year-old track star who knows the secret to aging well. 2:36

A 94-year-old track star from West Vancouver has become a poster child for staying active and is the subject of a new book about aging.

Olga Kotelko took up running at 77-years-old. Nearly two decades later, she still does aquafit three times a week, bowls, gardens, lifts weights at the gym, and trains for track-and-field competitions — including 100-metre races, javelin and shot put.

"I chose to be a young at heart athlete rather than an old woman. And I love doing what I'm doing, so there's no reason to stop," said Kotelko.

Olga Kotelko says growing up on a farm instilled in her a strong work ethic that has stuck with her through life. (CBC)

Being active has been part of Kotelko's life from the start. The retired school teacher is the seventh of 11 children born to Ukrainian farm owners. 

"Being on the farm, there's all kinds of work all the time," said Kotelko. "Constantly all kinds of chores like milking 15 cows by hand, separating the milk afterwards ... feeding 15 people three times a day."

Kotelko said she and her siblings never had a choice but to work hard.

"We walked two miles to school, two miles back ... We used to walk seven miles from our school to another school to play softball. And, of course, you have to come back seven miles."

But today, Kotelko does have a choice to stay active. This, coupled with what author Bruce Grierson calls grit, is Kotelko's secret to aging well.

Grierson spent more than a year studying the science of Kotelko's longevity — testing her physiology and diet. His findings have been published in a new book titled What Makes Olga Run? 

"A lot of it just comes from bearing down and just pushing through manageable difficulties, not something that's so dire that it overwhelms us, but something difficult that we overcome. And Olga's whole life is a testament to facing challenges and conquering them and gaining confidence from that and incrementally taking on more and more," said Grierson.

"The way Olga looks at life is just, 'What is my next opportunity?' Her horizons are still expanding at her age and there's no moping and being limited."

Kotelko says she is sometimes tired after aquafit, but that never stops her from getting up each day to accomplish more.

"It's not how old you are. It's how you get old. That's my motto," says Kotelko.

Click the video above to see Kotelko in action.

With files from CBC's Deborah Goble


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