It's never too late to start something new. Just ask Ida Keeling, who began running in her late 60s—and who, at age 100, recently broke the world record for the 100 meter dash. Keeling grew up in Harlem, at a time when there were few opportunities for girls to play organized sports, let alone girls of color. Living through the Great Depression and raising four children on her own, however, she was no stranger to going the distance.
Ms. Keeling’s resilience only deepened with time. After her husband died of a heart attack at 42, she was left to raise their four children on her own. She moved the family into a one-bedroom apartment in a Harlem housing project and took up work sewing in a factory, all the while contending with the abuses and indignities endured by black women in mid-20th-century America. As the civil rights movement took shape, Ms. Keeling became an active demonstrator, shuttling her children to Malcolm X speeches and boarding a predawn bus for the 1963 March on Washington.
“I always understood from mother that you die on your feet rather than live on your knees,” said her daughter Shelley Keeling. Over time, that resolve was gravely tested.
After losing two sons to violence, Keeling feel into a deep depression. At 67, her health had begun to falter to such a degree that her daughter, a lifelong track and field athlete, urged her to try to leave the dark thoughts behind—by outrunning them. Keeling signed up for a five-kilometer race through Brooklyn.
As she told the New York Times:
“Good Lord, I thought that race was never going to end, but afterwards I felt free,” Ms. Keeling recalled. “I just threw off all of the bad memories, the aggravation, the stress.”
A little over 30 years later, Ida Keeling has proven that older women may have more resolve than we even know, to stand up, and leave whatever feels like it's holding us back—in the dust.