Ida Keeling, a great-great grandmother from the Bronx is by all means NOT like any other 102-year-old you have ever met. At 4’6” and 83 pounds, she takes one prescription drug and states, “I am not a sickly person.” On size 5 and 1/2 feet, she runs in the hallways of her apartment building and on treadmills, lifts weights, and rides an exercise bike.
Keeling lost her husband to a heart attack at age 42, in 1958. She lost two sons, Donald and Charles, in gruesome, drug-related homicides, in 1979 and 1981. Her blood pressure went up to dangerous levels at 206/106. She sunk into a deep depression. Some people would never get over such events.
But God had a different plan for Ida.
Her daughter, Shelley, a lawyer, real estate investor and high school track coach, convinced her mother to take up running. Actually, she told her that she was going to run a race with her. Ida agreed and since then, Keeling has set record after record, becoming one of the world’s oldest sprinting legends.
“I ran the 5K I think, and I felt better,” explained Ida. “Good Lord, I thought that race was never going to end, but afterwards I felt free. I just threw off all of the bad memories, the aggravation, the stress.And I thought, since I felt so good and I was coming out of a hole, I’ve been running ever since.”
In 2011, at 95 years old, Keeling set the world record in her age group for running 60 meters at 29.86 seconds at a track meet in Manhattan, and in 2012 she set the W95 American record at the USATF Eastern Regional Conference Championships at 51.85. In 2014, at the 2014 Gay Games, Keeling set the fastest known time by a 99-year-old woman for the 100-meter dash at 59.80 seconds, although the relevant USA Track & Field webpage does not currently include a 100-meter record for US women older than the 90–94 age division. On April 30, 2016, Ida became the first woman in history to complete a 100-meter run at the age of 100.
“The biggest thing with my mom is that she never lets anything get her down,” Shelley Keeling said. “If somebody said to her, ‘I’m going to put you in a box and you’re never going to get out,’ she’d say, ‘Just you wait.’ ”
After her brothers were killed, Shelley Keeling got her mother to run in a 5K in Brooklyn. Ida Keeling was 67 at the time. She has been running ever since, in short races and long, though mostly in sprints these days.
December 13th was Ida Keeling Day at The Armory’s Track and Field Center. She spoke to hundreds of children, giving them inspiration on running and life.
Ida shares her inspirational story in a memoir titled, “Can’t Nothing Bring Me Down” scheduled to be released in February. In the meantime, she continues to inspire children and hopes to inspire people who think they are too old, too big, too small, too-whatever to live a great life.
“Get up off your back end and keep moving,” she said. “That’s all.”