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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"In What Makes Olga Run? Bruce Grierson explores what the wild success of a ninety-three-year-old track star can tell us about how our bodies and minds age. Olga Kotelko is not your average ninety-three-year-old. She not only looks and acts like a much younger woman, she holds over twenty-three world records in track and field, seventeen in her current ninety to ninety-five category. Convinced that this remarkable woman could help unlock many of the mysteries of aging, Grierson set out to uncover what it is that's driving Olga. He considers every piece of the puzzle, from her diet and sleep habits to how she scores on various personality traits, from what she does in her spare time to her family history. Olga participates in tests administered by some of the world's leading scientists and offers her DNA to groundbreaking research trials. What emerges is not only a tremendously uplifting personal story but a look at the extent to which our health and longevity are determined by the DNA we inherit at birth, and the extent to which we can shape that inheritance. It examines the sum of our genes, opportunities, and choices, and the factors that forge the course of any life, especially during"-- Provided by publisher
Publisher: New York : Henry Holt, 2014
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780805097207
0805097201
Branch Call Number: 305.26 Grie
Characteristics: 241 pages ; 22 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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