Three More Ageless Athletes Who Kick Keister

I’ll never use the phrase “kick ass” in a headline here, not because I’m against colorful language, but because it’s most overused phrase in the blogosphere (after “awesomesauce” and “amazeballs”).

But here’s some genuine keister kicking:

  • An 82-year-old nun completes the grueling Hawaii Iron Man triathalon.
  • A 93-year-old track star holds more world records than anyone else.
  • A 101-year-old runner finishes the London Marathon last month.

Who are these amazing athletes and what do they have in common?

Sister Madonna Buder: “The Iron Nun”

At age 23, Madonna Buder (b. 1930) followed her first calling and became a nun. She found her second one at age 48, when her spiritual counselor advised that she take up running as a way of tweaking, “mind, body, and spirit.”

At 55, she completed her first triathalon. Since then, she’s participated in more than 340, including 45 Iron Man Distances. (The Iron Man consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run.)

She finished the 2012 Hawaii Iron Man just a few days ago at age 82. Lance Armstrong won, so that tells you about the company she keeps.

Sister Madonna once questioned whether it was proper for a nun to compete in races, but not anymore. She concluded, “You don’t need to apologize for the gifts you’ve been given. Only apologize for not using them.”

Olga Kotelko: “Olga The Magnificent”

Olga Kotelko the Magnificent
(Olga Kotelko, the Magnificent)

At age 93, Olga Kotelko (b. 1919) flings hammers, hurls javelins, and leaps long jump pits in a single bound. She holds more track and field records than any other competitor.

Olga grew up in Saskatchewan, the seventh of 11 children. As a child, she played softball when she wasn’t milking the cows or slopping the pigs. As an adult, she escaped an unhappy marriage, became a teacher, and raised her two daughters alone while earning a college degree at night.

Olga rediscovered softball after her girls left home and played until age 77. But she needed a bigger challenge. A teammate suggested track-and-field. She found a trainer and now holds more than 30 world records.

“I will keep doing my track and field until I drop,” Olga says.

Fauja Singh: “The Turbaned Tornado”

For 84 years, Fauja Singh (b. 1911) lived simply in a small Punjabi village with his extended family. Then, within a short time, he lost his wife and a younger son. Fauja moved to London in 1995 to stay with his oldest son.

Fauja Singh, the Turbaned Tornado
(Fauja Singh, the Turbaned Tornado)

Depressed and in a strange country, he searched for a reason to keep living. “I wanted to escape my world of gloom and running seemed to be the only option.”

Fauja made news when he finished the 2000 London Marathon (his first one) at age 89, breaking a previous record. In 2004, he starred in an Adidas advertising campaign alongside David Beckham and Muhammad Ali.

As a Sikh, Fauja Singh has been a vegetarian his whole life. He considers diet and attitude the secret to his longevity. “I keep my mind fresh and try to be happy from within…I run while talking to God.”

What Do These Keister Kickers Have in Common?

First, they’ve fully embraced their individuality. They received those monikers from the press and athletic community who saw their essence: “The Iron Nun,” “The Magnificent,” “The Turbaned Tornado.”

Second, they found activity while searching for meaning, then the activity created meaning. In the last installment of Ageless Athletes, my friend Daniela commented that her fitness breakthrough occurred when she committed to exercise as a daily spiritual practice.

Scientists have begun to suspect intense training may be the key to cellular renewal in older athletes, but I suspect a kind of individual super-attitude that borders on spirituality also contributes.

Where does that leave you and me?

Start small where you are, and embrace yourself fully. Let those little moments bring you back to your body, and who knows to where from there!

20 Responses

  1. Daniela
    | Reply

    Another great post! And wow! Thanks for the mention! Big smile.

    • Debra Eve

      Seriously, Daniela, your comment set me on a whole new direction with this series. I need to thank you!

  2. Angelina Deans
    | Reply

    Wonderful!! I just started running again at 45 and stories like this keep me going when I feel like giving up.
    Thank you!

    • Debra Eve

      Yay! That’s what I write for. Thanks, Angelina.

  3. florence fois
    | Reply

    Ah Debra, this is a great series and not only inspirational but also motivating. My five minutes is one to one and half hours of pool walking, jogging and backstroke. I plan to add pool weights this month. In the winter my plans are to finally go on the ground … my purpose?

    I have a dream to publish some of my work, go to a conference in NYC in 2015 and in 2016, using revenue I know I will have from work, sub-let a condo on the Brighton or Coney Island beach. It will take all of these next four years to train for my “vision quest” to bike 25 miles round trip along the boardwalk, across Cropsey Avenue to Bay Parkway and 7.5 miles each way on the bike path adjacent to Shore Parkway … ending back at the beach for a well deserved swim in the ocean. That is what I will do with ech of my five minutes for four years.

    Each of these posts convinces me that I am not crazy and that what I dream is possible … not only to publish my novels … but once again revisit those 25 miles I once did four to five times a week, summer, spring and fall for five years. No bike path in Manhattan, no gym program and nothing since has given me the feeling of who I am more than I had those years in Brooklyn. They were also the first years I decided to write. Abandoned until four years ago, the writing is once more a part of my life, and the path to Brooklyn is clear. Thanks so much for everything you do to inspire us old “geezers” … although compared to those today I am a young chickie 🙂

    • Debra Eve

      Florence, I KNOW you’ll achieve your dreams. Your voice is so strong and your path (that real, physical one too) so clear. Thanks for sharing it with me!

  4. Jennette Marie Powell
    | Reply

    These people amaze me! I’m younger than the Iron Nun was when she started, and I do well to complete a 10k – walking! But I see it as you do – every little bit helps. Thanks for more inspiring stories!

    • Debra Eve

      Doing a 10k walking is an amazing achievement at any age, Jennette. As I mentioned to Karen, these folks are really outliers. The rest of us certainly can be happy on the big hump of the bell curve!

  5. K.B. Owen
    | Reply

    Keep plugging away at it, Debra – you’ll get there! Fascinating post, and so inspiring. I just turned 50 a few weeks ago, so I can use all the inspiration I can get! 🙂

    • Debra Eve

      Happy Birthday, Kathy! Yup, plugging away here. A little slower but still at it.

  6. wes warnock
    | Reply

    from your Doctor,
    that image of Olga in the air on that broadjump so empowering…
    So powerful…
    Thanks much,
    WW MD

    • Debra Eve

      You’re welcome, Wes. It also goes to show you that we each can find something unique to keep us going. Track and field holds no interest to me, but to Olga, it’s meaning and magic.

  7. Karen McFarland
    | Reply

    Wow, Debra, what inspiring people! Well, you always introduce us to inspiring people. I guess the point is, we all need to keep on going. These people are in a rush. But then again, they don’t have much left to fool around! I think it’s important to realize that we’re not in a race. Yet, we can’t give up! We need to keep moving forward.

    Thanks Debra. It was a great post! I guess we both had athletes on our minds this week, didn’t we. Take care! 🙂

    • Debra Eve

      Karen, I agree with you 100%. I really have no desire to become a Guiness Record Breaking octogenarian, but I certainly want to be sharp and vital. There’s a continuum between us and them and each person needs to find their optimum level.

  8. David Stevens
    | Reply

    Nice work Debra
    be good to yourself

    • Debra Eve

      Thanks, David. So glad you enjoyed it!

  9. August McLaughlin
    | Reply

    Wow. Talk about inspiring! I agree with you; positive, life-loving attitudes seem like the precursor to that kind of long-term zest and fitness. That photo of Fauja practically made me cry. So moving.

    • Debra Eve

      Thanks, August! Poor Fauja missed being inducted into the Guinness Book because he doesn’t have a birth certificate…they didn’t issue them in 1911 India (which, ironically, was under British rule at the time).

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