But the decision didn't stick. Keeling holds several track-and-field records. At the Penn Relays she set a new 100-meter mark for centenarians (1:17.33). "I felt like a giant," says Keeling, who stands 4'6". "When I got home, I said, 'I'm going back out there so I can break my record.'"
That's the thing about Keeling, who turned 101 in May. She can't stop, and she won't stop.
After losing her two sons to suspected drug-related deaths within a two-year span when she was in her 60s, Keeling had a hard time coping. "I was down in the dumps. I felt like I was in a hole that I couldn't get out of," she recalls.
Keeling's daughter, Shelley, a decorated track-and field athlete, asked her mother to join her on a "mini-run" in Brooklyn, New York. The run was far from mini, though. It was five kilometers, or about three miles. "Later, I found out that it was a 5K! I didn't know what a 5K was!" she says.
Keeling wasn't fast, but she completed the race. "The other runners were all passing me. I was so embarrassed," Keeling remembers. "So, I talked to myself. You can convince yourself of a lot of things. I don't care how slow I go, the distance in front of me will get shorter." The run, she says, was an awakening. "It was like somebody watered some dry flowers. I just opened up," Keeling says. "Running is good therapy."
Since then, Keeling has run in nearly 70 track and road races, mostly in mixed age groups. "When I was at 90, I left some 70-year-olds in the dust," Keeling says. She credits her motivational self talks for her ability to keep going, even when her inner-detractor tells her to walk instead of run. "I tell myself, 'Come on, Ida. You can do this,'" she says.
When Keeling isn't running, she's still on the move — either on a stationary bike or doing yoga. She has aches and pains, but that doesn't sideline her for very long. Like many runners, Keeling has days when she just doesn't feel like running. But she still laces up her sneakers, and advises others to do the same. "Kick yourself in the butt, and get out there," she says.
Photo: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports