What You Can Learn From Olga Kotelko: Winning At Any Age

“It’s not how old you are; it’s how you get old.” — Olga Kotelko

For people needing motivation to stay active, eat whole foods, and not stress out over the little things, you have a role model in Olga Kotelko.

Olga is a 94 year old retired school teacher from West Vancouver, Canada that entered her first “masters” track and field competition at the age of 77. At age 85 she broke 20 world records in one year.  Now, at 94 she is the only woman in the over 90 age group that still competes in the sports of both long-jumping and high-jumping.


Minister Ralph Sultan and senior Olympian Olga Kotelko talked about her world record success over her cover of McGill’s Headway magazine.  Flick photo by BC Gov Photos

What’s her secret?

Olga shared six ‘lesson’s in a recent interview with Parade Magazine.  While Olga seems to have found the fountain of youth, there is nothing out of the ordinary in the lessons:

1.  Swap the Sudoku For Sneakers – You might suspect that Olga thinks it’s important to keep moving.  Olga has been active throughout her life and hasn’t slowed down in her golden years.  At age 75 she was playing baseball with a rag-stuffed ball when she got ‘tackled’ by an outfielder going after a pop fly.That experience spurred her to look for a safer activity.  That’s when she joined the masters track program, hired Harold Morioka, one of the most gifted masters athletes ever, to coach her, and began breaking records in her age group.

2.  Stay On Your Feet – Lesson number two is to spend as much time as you can out of that death trap known as The Chair.  She climbs the stairs in the home that she lives in with her daughter and son-in-law about 50 times a day. Beyond that she keeps busy with hobbies and activities that help her avoid a sedentary lifestyle.  Olga hasn’t given in to spending the majority of her day in front of the TV which, unfortunately, is where most people in Olga’s age group spend much of their time.

3.  Eat Real Food – Olga isn’t vegetarian, vegan or Paleo. She eats a balanced diet based on whole foods and consumes carbs and red-meat in moderation. She eats four to five times a day.  Her lighter meal in the evening.  She doesn’t skip meals or eat fast food. Olga doesn’t take vitamin supplements but does take a baby aspirin each day to prevent blood clots.  She takes glucosamine daily for joint support.

4.  Be A Creature of Habit – Olga is a creature of habit and has a schedule that she follows each week. If it’s the day when she goes to the track to run, she goes to the track and runs.  She has a stretching routine that she does each morning, bowls on Tuesdays, and goes to bed at the same time each night. Certainly being disciplined and not simply relying on motivation or the ‘mood’ to hit you will help you stay on top of your game.  The people that I know that are extremely disciplined (okay, sometimes I refer to them as anal) are the ones that seem to get the most done.

5.  Cultivate A Sense of Progress – I love this lesson. It’s easy to get stuck in those things that we didn’t accomplish, but Olga applies the “move the yardstick” strategy to her life. Moving the yardstick means that you gauge your progress by where you are now.  If you’re 50 you’re not going to be able to compete with a 20 year old. Accept that and set your goals accordingly.  Olga’s not trying to be 50.  She’s trying to be the best 94 year old she can be.

6.  Lighten Up – Stress will kill you.  We all know that stress is bad for our health.  Olga says she doesn’t have time to stress out over every little thing. Her motto is to enjoy life and not be ruled by stress.

Does One Lesson Stand Out?

If you had to pick the one lesson that has propelled Olga to do what no one else her age is able to do, what would it be?

That’s the question that struck me as I read about Olga.

When I first read the article in Parade Magazine I thought something would stand out as the ‘ah-ha’ factor.  I thought there would be one or two things that would jump out and I would think “that’s it”! That’s her secret. But nothing did. Olga is doing things that I think many health-minded people do at any age.

Maybe it’s that she is combining the healthy habits that she has practiced for her entire life and they are working for her.

Or maybe she was dealt a good hand genetically and is just lucky.

I’m certain part of it is the ‘can-do’ attitude that keeps her competing in – and winning – track and field events at the age of 94.

But, above all, Olga has a wildly competitive spirit. That is her secret.  Olga may not be competing with anyone but herself.  Olga might not  recognize that she fiercely competitive.

I do know that not many women at the age of 75 hire a top-of-the-line coach to help them fine tune their running skills unless they want to win.

Olga wants to win.  She wants to win at track and field.  She wants to win her age group. Most of all she wants to win at life.  That, my friend, is Lesson Number 7.  That is Olga’s secret.

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