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Ida Keeling turns heartbreak into victory

April 28, 2018 GMT

The world was charmed when 100-year-old Ida Keeling competed in the 2016 Penn Relays, ran the 100-meter dash in 1 minute and 17.33 seconds to set the world record for women age 100 to 104 — then dropped to the track to do pushups as the crowd roared.

The 4-foot-6, 83-pound centenarian teamed up with writer Anita Diggs and recently released her memoir, “Can’t Nothing Bring Me Down: Chasing Myself in the Race against Time” (Zondervan, $22.99), and talks about her struggles and successes.

Keeling, now 102, grew up poor in Harlem, working in factories during the Great Depression to raise four kids as a single mother, and losing two adult sons to unsolved cases of drug-related violence. Keeling sank into a depression that concerned her daughter, Shelley, a track-and-field and cross-country coach.


“She didn’t start competing until she was 67, and it came on the heels of a tragedy,” recalled Shelley Keeling on the “Today” show. “My mother had lost both her sons, my brothers. They were both murdered. It was a really dark time and mother was really distressed. Her pressure had started to shoot up. So, one day I called her and said, ‘I’m taking you for a run.’ it was a 3.1 mile, 5K run. That was the beginning of her career.”

Today, Miss Ida (as she is known in her Harlem community) is a world record holder for the 60-meter dash in the 95-99 age group, the 100-meter dash for the 100-104 age group, and continues to set new records with each race.

Keeling recalled that when crossing the finish line at the Penn Relays: “I was so happy. I didn’t come out here to be a loser. Even though I felt tired, I just pushed on the best I can. That was at my pace. And when I crossed that finish line, I said, ‘Thank you, God. Thank you for everything and all of your blessings.’”

Although Keeling fell and and broke her femur at home last year, she told Runner’s World magazine that she had a painful recovery but is continuing to regularly work out several times a week.

“I go to the gym, take a strengthening class that has some dance steps,” Keeling said. “Other days, I got my bike and my running and my three-pound weights. I squat with them, stretch my arms out. I try to do 10 minutes, three times a day — then it’s nap time. When a race gets closer, I also go with my daughter to the track for a 40-minute session of warmup drills and a single 60-meter run.”

When asked, Miss Ida offered three tips to grow old gracefully.

“My secret is love yourself. And also, eat for nutrition not for taste. Do what you need to do, not what you want to do. Get some kind of exercise, at least 10-15 minutes every day.”

Keeling added that three or four times per week she imbibes a nip of cognac: “I put a little bit in my coffee or in some water” to aid circulation.

All in all, Miss Ida advises: “If you don’t use it, you’re going to lose it.”