95-Year-Old Woman Sets Running Record

New Yorker Ida Keeling ran 60 meters in 29.86 seconds.

February 20, 2011, 1:15 PM

Feb. 20, 2011— -- Ida Keeling took a lot of ribbing when she took up running.

Other runners would say, "'Oh, gee, my mother's younger than you, my grandmother's younger than you,'" Keeling recalls. "I was always the oldest person."

The other night at a meet in northern Manhattan, there was no question Keeling was the oldest athlete on the track. But that's not the only reason she stood out. She set a world record, running 60 meters in 29.86 seconds.

No other 95-year-old woman had done that before.

That's right, 95.

Keeling is a 4-foot-6, 83-pound bundle of wonder, a woman defying the conventions of age. She takes only one prescription drug, and recalls names and dates with the speed of someone half her age.

Active and healthy and living alone in her Bronx, N.Y., apartment, she could pass for 75. She says she feels even younger.

"Like a puppy," she declares. "I feel younger now than when I was in my 30s and 40s and had all those problems. Then I was aged!"

Over her long life, Keeling has endured the kind of heartbreak and hardship that could grind anyone down.

Her mother passed away when she was a child, and her husband died suddenly of a heart attack when he was just 42. She lost two sons, Charles and Donald, to drug-related killings in 1979 and 1981.

In running, Keeling found a refuge.

Her daughter, Shelley Keeling, who is a lawyer and real estate investor and coaches track and field at a nearby high school, convinced her to go on a "mini-run" when her mother was 67.

Two years later, Ida Keeling ran a 5K race, and she's been running ever since.

"It felt good, and I felt uplifted. I said, 'Well, gee, this is for me,"' she said.

The medals and trophies crowding the bookshelves in her home document her success on the track.

"This one's from France, this one -- I think is from Georgia," she said, pointing out each one.

Setting world records is getting to be old hat for Keeling. Three years ago, she set the record for fastest sprint in the 90-and-over age group.

Keeling grew up in Harlem, sharing a bedroom with five siblings in the back of her dad's grocery store. She raised a family while working, mostly in the garment factories that have long since left New York.

When asked her about the secrets to her good health, Keeling said she eats a light breakfast for dinner and a dinner -- say hamburger, or liver or fish -- for breakfast.

"Gives me fuel for the day," she explains.

She uses the long hallway of her apartment building as her practice track. She also rides an exercise bike, lifts weights and -- even at 95 -- jumps rope.

Then there is her outlook on life.

"My secret is, feel good about yourself [and] have a good attitude about yourself. ... Do what you need to do, and not what you want to do, or what you'd like to do," she said.

"I just close my eyes and say, 'Count your blessings Ida, count your blessings.' Stay alert, stay focused, and that's it. It clears up a whole lot of things. You'd be surprised," she said.

Keeling said she is not sure how much longer she will run, although she said she hopes to "make it to 108," which would give her four more years than her father's mother, who lived until the age of 104.

"Every year I am going to keep doing what I am doing, and when running time comes, if I feel I am ready, I will go at it," Keeling said.