Ida Keeling is a great-great grandmother. She is barely 1.4m tall and weighs 37kg.
On 30 April 2016, she broke the world record for centenarians in the 100m-dash, crossing the finish line in a time of 1 min 17 sec.
Jokingly she said, “What makes me faster now is that everyone else has slowed down.”
At an age of 100 when so many older people would rather slow down, sit back and curl up, Ida keeps going, exercising and running.
She comes from a poor family who lived for years in cramped quarters in the back of her father’s grocery. During the years of the Great Depression in America, she held a series of jobs washing windows and babysitting for neighbors.
Her husband died of a heart attack at age 42 and she was left to raise their four children on her own. She moved the family into a one-bedroom apartment in Harlem and took up work sewing in a factory. All those years in mid-20th-century America she had to contend with the abuses and indignities endured by black women.
But those were not her life’s cruelest blows.
Her older son, Donald while serving overseas in the navy developed a crippling drug addiction. His enslaving habit ensnared his younger brother, Charles who served in the army.
As a mother, Ida watched in horror her two boys slipping into the world of drugs. Gradually her two sons were no longer the barrel-chested charmers whose friends joked they looked like superheroes.
In 1978, she received a call from the police informing her that Donald had been hanged. Two years later, the phone rang again telling her Charles was beaten to death in the street with a baseball bat. Both killings were suspected to be drug-related. Neither was ever solved.
In her own words, Ida said, “I’ve never felt a pain so deep … I couldn’t make sense of any of it and things began to fall apart.”
Ida spiraled into a deep depression. Her health began to falter. Her blood pressure shot up, along with her heart rate.
It was then her daughter Shelly coaxed her to register for a 5km race. It was her first running event at age 67.
When she reached the finishing line, she said:
“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.”
Running is healing.
So began her sunset running career. Ida Keeling has never stopped running ever since. She went for race after race, travelling across the world for running competitions. Often she was the only contestant in her age group.
Running is healing for her. It gives her a sense of serenity. It is more than just maintaining her physical health. It helps her to put behind her past life of hardship and losses.
Running is liberating as she presses on with her sinewy arms urging her body forward, each stride stronger than the last as she picks up momentum.
There are days when she battles a surge of arthritis or a hint of melancholy. But she has resolved, “I never want to go backwards.”
And so even when a nasty cramp shot up her right leg, she dispensed with the pain the only way she knew how. She ran through it.
Perhaps I know now why some of my running friends who are hurting are the best runners.
They knew a deeper truth of Philippians 3:13-14, which Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message:
“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward — to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”