What Makes Olga Run?: The Mystery of the 90-Something Track Star and What She Can Teach Us About Living Longer, Happier Lives by Bruce Grierson

What Makes Olga Run

Reviewed by Caryn St. Clair

Olga Kotelko took up track and field at the age of 77. That’s right-when most people are slowing down, this dynamo of a woman ramped up her physical activity to an almost unheard of level. When What Makes Olga Run? was written, Olga was 93 years old and to the point in her track career that there were not always other competitors in her bracket so sometimes she competed in the men’s division. When competing, her times (or distances in the field events) were often so good that not only did she win and set records, she would have won and set records in two age brackets below hers. The author takes readers through a series of steps as scientists try to determine why. What makes this woman so special, so strong and so fast? What gives her the stamina and body of a person decades younger?

Although not officially subdivided, the book is really three parts. The first few chapters introduce us to Olga, giving us a thumbprint of her life leading up to her taking up track and then her track “career.” The author also explains how and why he became interested in Olga. Then, in the next few chapters, he takes us through the various tests and studies that Olga was been a subject for while doctors try to figure out how her body is aging and why it is so different than most people. Both of these parts, each several chapters long, are interesting. But the real fodder for the reader is in the last part.

Starting on page 114, chapter seven titled “Habits” and the chapters that follow start to look into what Olga’s day to day life is like. What and when she eats, how much sleep she gets and her personality traits that rule her life. The CODA follows up with Olga’s Nine Rules for Living.

It is certainly possible-and in fact shown in one of the studies she underwent, that Olga has “good genes.” But her long and strong life is clearly the result of more than her genetic makeup. While readers who jump on the bandwagon of her Nine Rules for Living may not all be able to take up track and field as a hobby in their 70s or live strong well into their nineties, it is a safe bet that the life they do live will be a better life.

This was a fascinating book to read and certainly far more than an average “self-help” book.

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