44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2014
Bruce Grierson's book What Makes Olga Run? presents an intriguing picture of Olga Kotelko, a Canadian who carries a ton of energy on her tiny frame. She is an athlete who has won a huge amount of medals in competitive track and field events. Those accomplishments are mentioned in such clarity as to provide inspiration to get moving. Add to Olga's athletic prowess the fact that she was born in 1919, and you have the stuff that makes for a fascinating narrative.
The thought occurs that Mr. Grierson's book title could have ended with a period instead of a question mark. Various reasons are offered for what is behind the energy that has kept Olga going. For instance, there is the hereditary factor. Some people carry in their genetic makeup a likelihood for longevity. There is the choice factor. Olga chooses to constantly keep moving. She chooses to drink enormous amounts of water. The book digs deep into those kinds of things.
Only recently have some things happened to indicate the possibility that it might not be much longer before there's an end to Olga's incredible story. As the book nears the end, Grierson briefly touches on a potentially serious health issue. And he writes of a fall down a flight of stairs not long ago. But on March 2, 2014, she will be 97. And if health adversities can be overcome by anyone, the person who is capable of survival is surely Olga. She is not a quitter. She made a wise choice to make the most of her life, regardless of her age. She does not want to roll over and play dead, yet is ready to accept the inevitable whenever it comes.
This can be viewed as an unconventional self-improvement book. If everyone followed Olga's daily regimen, certainly there would be many more nonagenarians among us. What is remarkable is that in her case, living well past 90 has been an enjoyable experience for the most part. In the very last pages of the book, the author presents nine rules that, if followed, are likely to get you much further down the road to enjoying the kind of rewarding longevity Olga has experienced. Those rules, which were noted by the author after he interviewed dozens of masters athletes over a four year period, are enough by themselves to read the book. What comes before those rules are presented will lay the framework for why they should be followed.
I was fortunate to have received this book for review from Goodreads First Reads. It is a surprising glimpse into the life of a North American that is well worth the time, whether one aspires to athletic prowess or not. Everyone can benefit by reading this book.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Using the story of a 90-year old athlete (narrated with a devotional/affectionate tone) as a powerful context, Grierson provides an excellent discussion on various topics related to aging and perseverance.
A narration that starts off as a biographical investigation quickly provides an excellent cover to discuss "adversity hypothesis" and how resilience in learnt. Some of the core concepts in this chapter are expanded in the more theoretical The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease. The author then builds on the topic of physical resilience to introduce neuroplasticity, the role of exercise in mind performance, and the power of any exercise. The discussion of the types of experiments conducted to assess such hypotheses in itself is a worthy read. (In fact, the discussion is so lucid, it may even force a committed couch potato to amp up their activity levels).
The chapter on the role of evolution in fitness (its ten dimensions) and the framing of "endurance v/s performance" is probably the best-written. It provides a reader not only an excellent context to think about how our views of exercise and use of body, in general - has changed and challenges to think what activity types should be encouraged.
Of course, any discussion on seniors/aging, will be incomplete without addressing "nature v/s nurture". Grierson provides a realistic assessment of where genomics is in terms of able to understand aging. While the huge advances made in genomics and enabling personalized medicine need to be cheered, it is evident that we are still not very close to understanding the aging process or definitively answering aging/longevity tendencies for aging. The author also investigates the role of sleep, nutrition - and more importantly habits and personality (defined by the OCEAN traits)in aging, all along leveraging Olga as the chief protagonist.
While the story of Olga (and through her - a close view of the senior athlete community) in itself is an inspiring read, Grierson skillfully camouflages an excellent abstraction of current scientific understandings (exercise and diet, evolution, personality, genomics) in that story. That makes for a very informative and compelling read, despite the sometimes overly adulatory narration of Olga. Furthermore. the comprehensive view - systematically hypothesizing about all possible factors - as opposed to cheerleading a particular viewpoint on nutrition or genetics - is a very refreshing addition to the genre of aging. Excellent read.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2014
What Makes Olga Run
One of my interests is longevity and closely tied to that is health.
I read an awesome book - What Makes Olga Run - The Mystery of the 90-Something Track Star, and What She Can Teach Us About Living Longer, Happier Lives.
It is the story of Olga Kotelko who is breaking all kinds of seniors records in track and field. The story is made human by author Bruce Grierson who compares his decline (and he is perhaps 50) to Olga's seemingly non-decline. He is a great writer.
Nobel winner, James Watson, said "men of 50 do not like to fail - that is why they are so boring". Something to think about. Walk closer to failure to be more interesting.
My lessons from the book (some with my interpretations)
1 - Move. We are not designed to just sit. The Fitbit is perfect for keeping this in sight. Grierson tells of setting himself up in an easy chair complete with footstool as his work area. I, also, do this at night. This is bad. I need to look at a standup desk.
2 - Break a sweat every day. The Fitbit can lull one into thinking they are active but I can do my steps without ever breaking a sweat. It even counts as "very active" when I am just walking at a normal pace (perhaps 4 MPH). I am fairly good at this but need reminding.
3 - Lift weights.
4 - Sleep. I am really working on this one.
5 - Be an optimist. Not a fake optimist but a real one. This ties to "lighten up" - manage stress (the exercise helps).
6 - It is all about habits. Design ones that support health.
The final chapter has 9 rules. One that I like is "Don't do it if you don't like it". The last one is "begin now".
She is an inspiration.
Good companion reading for this would be another of my favourites - Younger Next Year.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2014
Olga Kotelko was an elite masters track star who, upon her death in 2014, at age 95, held hundreds of gold medals in track and field, none of which she earned prior to her 77th birthday.
In What Makes Olga Run? Bruce Grierson jumps head first into the life of Olga to try to understand what makes her tick. What he finds is that this extraordinary woman is, by most metrics, not very extraordinary. There is no magic here. For readers looking for super foods, esoteric yoga mantras, or exotic training regimens you won’t find them here. Olga’s story is remarkable in how unremarkable it is. Grierson follows Olga through just about every test one can think of: stress tests, DNA analyses, diets, psychological examinations – in every case she comes out normal or close to it. But somehow, in Olga, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Olga is extraordinary. At 77, when most people are dead or dying, she hires a Hungarian track coach and begins a daily training regimen. She eats a nutritious but not remarkable diet. She loves competition. She loves to win. She was upbeat and refused to dwell on the dark side of things. Somehow all of that added up to a uncommon life of steady and satisfying accomplishment.
The book is not meant to be a text book. There are passages, especially concerning biology, that – in my humble opinion - could have been written more precisely. But precision in a book like this usually translates into boring. And the book is not boring. It is well written, reads easily, and is adequately documented.
There are three main take-aways:
1. What you already know about good health is true. Eat well. Exercise. Sweat a little every day. Enjoy friends a family.
2. Maintain a good attitude. Embrace optimism. Eschew pessimism. Keep a good perspective.
3. Your bad habits can be reversed. You can improve your heart health. You can enjoy time with your family again. Every decision, every step, every bite represents a fork in the road that leads to an end that you chose.
The author ends with Nine Rules for Living that summarize simplicity and health. But for him, ‘Olga’s biggest gift’ is a change in perspective. He records her advice:
Look around. These are your kids. This is your wife. This is your life. Its awesomeness is eluding you. Pay attention. Yes, there will come a time when you have genuine, life-threatening ailments. But, for now, stop your kvetching. And stop dreading birthdays that end in zeros. Those zeros can pull you under, like stones in your pocket. At your age, your story is not ending: you know that.
An uplifting read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Olga Kotelko shatters preconceptions about age and aging. At ninety-one she is a track star, demonstrating almost unbelievable athleticism and stamina. Olga has attained both quality and quantity. She not only has a long life but one worth living. The author seeks to identify the factors that contribute to her vibrant, athletic longevity.
Of course, the author finds there are many components. A happy combination of attitude, exercise, and genetics seem to help. Olga's life has purpose and balance. She has a routine but is flexible.
This book is inspiring. It is a fairly easy read although parts, especially those dealing with the science of aging, are dull and drag. Still this is an eye opening account. Old age does not have to result in a decline into uselessness. If Olga's tale means anything, it demonstrates that life is what you make it. Recommended.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Bruce Grierson does a marvelous job of presenting Olga, the athlete, Olga, the friend, Olga, the optimist, Olga, the mystery. Olga Kotelko is a 94 year old woman who competes in 12 Track and Field events without major injuries, and is always looking ahead to try new things. She still has plans to learn how to play the piano!
Along the way, Grierson discusses research about the slowing and fragility of the human body and how Olga (and other octogenarians) have shown that fading away quietly is not the fate of us all. He carefully looks at her genetic makeup, her personality traits, her outlook on life, and her persistent activity level that lets her not only take up competing in her 70's, but has made her physically stronger in her 90's. It is obvious how much Grierson likes Olga and is fascinated by her unique qualities.
This book could have been a bit dry, but Grierson has written a fascinating story of aging, with a delightful optimism that if we all just get moving, that we can individually transform out lives! I hope this book becomes a best-seller, because it deserves to be one!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2014
Many people will want to read this book to find out Olga's secrets. I read it for the pleasure of the prose. Bruce Grierson is one of those rare writers who knows how to capture a scene in just a few well-chosen words. He has an incredible gift for drawing characters and situations, and illustrating scientific concepts using simple language, without dumbing anything down. He's funny, with an eye for quirky details, and down-to-earth -- the antithesis of a smarty-pants writer. Loved this book for all kinds of reasons -- I mean, a 96-year-old world-class athlete?! -- but Grierson really makes Olga come alive, so we see her as a person rather than a clothes hanger on which to hang ideas, and that's what really makes it special. You can imagine this is your grandmother -- or yourself, if only you lived a little differently.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Longevity has become a fascination for Americans over the past fifty years. People are living longer and being more active later in their lives than ever before but how are they doing it? Author Bruce Grierson attempts to answer some of these questions by studying one of the most fascinating athletes around. Olga Kotelko is 90+ years old and holds 12 world records in track & field. While people half her age stumble out of bed in the morning, Olga is stretching, doing yoga and running on the track. Winner of hundreds of meets, she has competed in multiple events including the shot put and the javelin. So what is her secret?
This book is so much fun to read. The author's writing style is light and buoyant while also keeping us up to date on the latest discoveries in exercise and brain research. As with most studies that rely on only one outlier, Olga's journey defies expectations but not because she is extraordinary, rather because she's not. As Bruce and several doctors test, poke and prod this zen like lady in every way they can devise, the answers just do not show up. The process merely opens the door to more questions. The truth is, she could be any one of us, a person who decided to be a little more active and disciplined then let their hobby grow into international fame. I think there is a part of all of us who wonders if we might be the next Olga Kotelko and maybe we are. So far there is no way to rule it out.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2014
I'm approaching 60 and my well-being is on my mind a great deal. I read this book because I don't want to hobble into and through my senior years. I want to run, roll in the grass, swing and play with my grandchildren. I want to enjoy doing things and going places and kick tail through those golden years. Olga's story was very enlightening and inspiring. Encouraging. Grierson tells it in an easy to read style, filled with fact and scientific documentation, but well laced with humor, humanity, and reality.
I'm ready to rock. Let's do it!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2014
Very good story of personal inspiration along with some scientific -based evidence.
A pleasure to read. One can also see her in a YouTube clip which is fun to watch about five minutes long.