Olga’s legacy: The brain of a famous athlete in her 90s still revealing clues about longevity

Olga Kotelko took up track and field at 77, and never looked back.


May 26, 2017, 1:13 p.m.

Olga Kotelko competes in shot put in 2009

Olga Kotelko competes in the shot put competition during the World Masters Games in Sydney in 2009. (Photo: Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images)

For most of her days, Olga Kotelko led a relatively ordinary life. One of 11 children born to parents who had immigrated to Canada from the Ukraine, she grew up working on the family farm and eventually became a teacher. She married, divorced and then raised two daughters as a single mother. When she retired from teaching, she started playing coed softball. She had played baseball as a girl and enjoyed it, so she ran back on the playing field.

But the competitive bug really took hold. She played ball for several years until she had a collision with a male player easily twice her size, or so the story goes. When a friend offered a safer suggestion, Kotelko took up track and field — at 77.

Within years, this grandmother known for gardening, volunteering and baking a mean pirogi was breaking records on the track. She became one of the most successful track and field athletes in history, winning more than 750 gold medals and more than 30 world records.

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