Let me introduce you to one of my heroes, Olga Kotelko (March 1919-June 2014), the Vancouver nonagenarian who, at age 90-95, was considered by many to be one of the world’s greatest athletes holding over 300 world records!

Olga began her athletic career at age 77 amassing over 750 gold medals.  She competed in her final track and field event in June 2014 a few days before dying of an intracranial hemorrhage.

Last week Iron Dam lent to me the excellent book “What Makes Olga Run” by Bruce Grierson that follows her story as sports and medical scientists conducted extensive studies in an effort to try to understand her remarkable athletic performance and why at 91 years old her muscles lacked the mitochondrial decay expected in a 65 year old (I’ll give you a hint: daily intense exercise).

If you are interested in health, longevity or even sports performance in your later years, I strongly recommend this read.  For me the most resonant passage is early in the book:

“To grasp why Olga is apparently aging more slowly than usual, it helps to think hard about what aging actually is – and why it happens.  After all, we need to die, but it’s by no means obvious why we need to get dead incrementally the way we do.” 

And by your normal standards, Olga never did.  She kept right on playing through the Langley track & field meet that she attended in her last weekend of life.  But the author also sadly observed that Olga did suffer a slight decline in performance and mental acuity after the medical studies began and she took the advice of doctors to decrease her training volume.  He wonders if it was mere coincidence.

Death is inevitable.  Dying incrementally, not so much.  I’m in my 40’s and am watching the majority of my friends declining into their advancing years by the choices they make.  But at CrossFit Empower, and at the CanWest Games, I’m surrounded by peers of similar age who have made a different choice and have produced dramatically different results.

At CrossFit Empower we have our own septuagenarian athletes: Iron Dam, Mom & Intrepid, all three starting CrossFit younger than Olga took up track.  Their futures look exciting!

Sure, we’re all going to die but, it’s not at all obvious that my CrossFitting peers are “getting dead”.  As the book reveals, a lot of it depends on the choices you make.  Read it.  Think about it.  Make your choice.