What Makes Olga Run?

What Makes Olga Run?

The Mystery of the 90-something Track Star, and What She Can Teach Us About Living Longer, Happier Lives

Book - 2014
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FINALIST 2014 - City of Vancouver Book Award

Part science book, part journey into the untapped potential of the human spirit, this is the remarkable story of a 94-year-old track and field champion (not retired).
     Olga Kotelko is most certainly a genetic outlier, one of those rare, blessed people whose bodies resist the degradations of age. More remarkably, she's not alo≠ there are men and women all over the world competing at ages at which most of us will be lucky even to be alive. But her secret, and theirs, isn't just the luck of the gene pool. It's in the stories of how they exploit their genetic good fortune where the lessons for the rest of us may be found. Author Bruce Grierson, whose much-read 2010 New York Times Magazine piece first brought attention to Olga's remarkable story, accompanies the nonagenarian Canadian to track meets to see her in action, and to research facilities around North America where he and medical researchers hope to learn the secrets of her thriving tissues and age-resistant DNA. And perhaps most importantly, she welcomes him and us into her world, where we learn that your life might benefit most of all from how you live it.
Publisher: Toronto : Random House of Canada, ©2014.
ISBN: 9780307363459
Characteristics: 241 pages ;,24 cm.

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b
booksphinx
Jun 22, 2016

At first glance, I wasn't interested in the subject matter - but the tagline on the summer reading label: "what will you do when you're 90?" coaxed me to give this book a try.

Chapter by chapter, Grierson approaches Olga's incredible skill as a nonagerian track and field star as linked to variables such as personality, the brain, genetics and hardship, among others - to try and understand exactly what the magic formula is for thriving at Olga's (and any) age.

There are some really thought provoking paragraphs within the book, such as the part about telomeres (protein caps that seal the ends of our chromosomes, protecting our DNA):

"Every time a cell divides, a sliver of telomere is sloughed off, until - some fifty to seventy-five cell divisions later - the telomere is too short to do its job. The chromosome is exposed. The next cell division starts cutting into the principal. Genetic damage results, leading to cell death, which we see as age-related disease.

Everyone's telomere length is set at birth, a gift of inheritance for better or worse. But life circumstances thereafter can change the burn rate - a lot."

This, and other factoids about subjects like the danger of a sedentary lifestyle provoked me to get out and cycle 22km on the day I finished the book. Whether I'll keep it up is another thing, but there is something incredibly inspiring and life-affirming about this book, not only that Olga is doing what few of us dream of doing in our golden years, but that also the author of the book - an "everyman" personality - is so relatable, that I could almost put myself there with him, marvelling at Olga and all of the data presented.

A fantastic read, for sports-aficionados and couch potatoes alike!

c
callig
Dec 15, 2014

Looking at the other reviews, i think Olga herself would groan at their preoccupation with the ad hominem.
She and her collaborator want people to learn from her, and not limit themselves to getting emotional jollies.
Unfortunately, there's not too much to learn here. It seems like a case of you have the right stuff [genes], and the right upbringing, and away you go, or, more commonly, not.

Two underplayed points in the book: she is social/competitive and seems to get strong 'runners high' [is more emotional/reactive].
If you lack one or both, you're normal.

b
bobgrant
Aug 07, 2014

I was really disappointed in this book. The science is all well and good but there is very little of Olga in there. No pictures at all! I wanted to know more about what she thought of her track career and less about her genetic predispositions.

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