At the Penn Relays this past weekend, no one expected that the star of the nation’s oldest and largest track and field competition would be a little old lady, but that’s exactly what happened when 100-year-old Ida Keeling stepped onto the field. Ida didn’t only get the crowd riled up — who wouldn’t cheer at the sight of a four-foot-six, 83-pound centenarian preparing to run the 100-meter dash — but she also set a world record.
Ida Keeling wasn’t always a champion runner. Growing up in Harlem in the early 1900s, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for young girls to play organized sports, let alone African-American girls. In an interview with the New York Times last month, Keeling said that though she had always liked to run, it wasn’t for leisure or to exercise but simply to race — a hobby she picked up again in her 60s.
“I was a pretty fast girl. What makes me faster now is that everyone else slowed down.”
Ida Keeling’s love for running was reignited after a series of misfortunes left her depressed and facing a myriad of health problems. Keeling’s husband died when he was just 42-years-old, leaving her to raise four children alone. Ida got a job sewing in a factory and moved her family into a one-bedroom apartment in Harlem. Keeping strong for her kids and trying to raise them with strong values, Keeling would cart her out to watch Malcolm X’s speeches and took a bus to participate in the 1963 March on Washington.
Ida’s daughter, Shelley Keeling, remembers those lessons taught by her mother fondly.
“I always understood from mother that you die on your feet rather than live on your knees.”
Despite the grief she faced at having lost her husband so early, the universe wasn’t done testing Ida Keeling. After serving in the Navy and Army, respectively, her sons Donald and Charles were both murdered in drug-related killings — Donald Keeling was hanged in 1978 and Charles Keeling was beaten to death with a bat roughly two years later. Watching her mother suffer such sadness and fall deeper and deeper into ill health, Shelley, a track-and-field coach, convinced Ida that to save her life, she needed to start running.
And run she did.
Ida Keeling signed up for her first 5 km race through Brooklyn when she was 67-years old, and she has never looked back, crediting her running, one-hour-a-day exercise regimen, and her diet — “eat for nutrition, not for taste” — with her longevity.
“You see so many older people just sitting around — well, that’s not me. Time marches on, but I keep going.”
When Ida Keeling stepped onto the field on Saturday to run the 100-meter dash at Penn Relays, the crowd was uproarious, according to Inside Edition. So much so, in fact, that daughter Shelley had to remove one of Ida’s hearing aids so the centenarian wouldn’t be distracted by the riotous cheering of the 34,000 people in the stands.
Although Ida Keeling finished the race in last place, the spry older woman — who will be turning 101 in a few weeks — set a new record for 100-year-old runners in the masters mixed 100-meter dash with a time of one minute 17.33 seconds. To celebrate her world record, Ida stopped in the infield, got down into the grass, and did five push-ups.
“It was wonderful. I’m very happy to offer all of this crowd a nice example of what you can do for yourself, and I thank God every day for my blessings.”
One hundred-year-old Ida Keeling is proof that age doesn’t have to slow you down, and if you’re strong willed and keep positive, you can do accomplish any goals you set for yourself.
[Photo by Rich Schultz/AP Images]