Ida Keeling still setting records, examples at 100

Ida Keeling (l) runs with her daughter Shelley during a photo shoot for Vogue magazine in August 2012.
Photo courtesy of Norman Jean Roy

A Riverdale woman approaching her 100th birthday is setting records for her age and setting examples for all ages, showing that she is #CenturyStrong.

On Friday, May 15, Riverdale resident Ida Keeling will celebrate the milestone of her 100th birthday. Take note, however – as this is not your typical 100-year old.

Keeling was born in 1915 in Harlem, where she was raised and attended various public schools.

Living in Harlem for a majority of her life, Ida worked mostly administrative assistant jobs in Manhattan, including tenures at the American Hebrew Congregation, the Department of Motor Vehicles and Harlem Hospital, the latter of which she worked in the records department.

After spending over eight decades living in Harlem, including 38 years at St. Nicholas Houses, Keeling moved to Queens, where she spent the next eight and a half years of her life before moving to Riverdale in 2001.

The late 1970s and early 1980s were very difficult for Ida, however. Keeling lost two of her four children, Charles and Donald, who both were killed in drug-related incidents in 1979 and 1981.

After both of these incidents took place, Ida’s daughter Shelley took Ida, who was 67 at the time, to a 3.1 mile (or 5K) mini-run in 1982 in attempts to get her mind off of the tragic losses.

“After she participated in the mini-run with me, it seemed like a big burden was lifted off of her shoulders,” said Shelley Keeling, who also participated in the mini-run. “The experience gave her something positive to focus on after so many negative events in her life took place.”

Following the mini-run, Keeling continued to stay active by running and taking part in different races worldwide.

In 2005, at age 90, Ida won a medal and a lifetime award after participating in a race in Atlanta, Georgia.

In 2008, she set a world record for her age group in Clermont Ferrand, France.

In August 2014, the 99-year old participated in the 100-meter sprint event at the Gay Games in Akron, Ohio and, again, set another record for her age group.

Although she takes part in track and field events, Keeling considers herself a sprinter and has specialized in the 60-meter sprint for the last two decades.

“My mom isn’t exactly breaking records as much as she is setting them – even though she’s broken several of her own,” said Shelley. “She has inspired many younger individuals and even people who are the same age as her.”

Shelley added that she plans to run with her mother again during the upcoming summer.

Along with running, Ida, who suffers with arthritis, also takes part in biking, jump roping and even participates in a yoga class twice a week.

Despite the fact that she is approaching triple digits in age, Keeling says that, “age is just a number.”

“There are people who consider themselves ‘old’ just sitting around at home and waiting to die – that’s just stupid,” said Ida. “If I could, I would tell them to stop feeling sorry for themselves and to get active, but there’s nothing wrong with recharging yourself when you need to.”

Despite taking care of herself thought her life, Keeling is still thankful and feels blessed to see another year of life.

“Exercise is one of the world’s greatest medicines,” Ida said, who is currently working on her new book, ‘Back in the Day’, which will reflect her life experiences.

“Combine exercise with a positive attitude, determination, focus and nutrition – and an individual can go a long way. It’s an honor that my story can set an example for others.”

A birthday party will be held for Keeling at Battery Gardens Restaurant, 1 Battery Park, from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 16.

Reach Reporter Steven Goodstein at (718) 742–3384. E-mail him at sgoodstein@cnglocal.com.

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