Appeared in the North Shore News – January 17, 2014
Olga Kotelko is weird, just plain weird — in the nicest, most incredible, let’s pull out all the stops and say phenomenal way.
This is not just mediaspeak phenomenal. We throw such words around. But Olga intrigues and puzzles medical science. She puzzles herself.
Olga, a retired West Vancouver teacher and a regular at the West Vancouver swimming hole, as I call the Aquatic Centre, is so phenomenal, so unique, that the Today show from New York recently sent a crew to shoot a segment on her — which took 10 hours at the Richmond Oval.
In that time Olga could set many world records. That’s what she does. Set records.
Olga holds a bushel of world track-and-field records for her age group.
She turns 95 on March 2. She’s the Dal Richards of the athletic world (Dal, another incredible Vancouver treasure, turned 96 this month, still leading his orchestra).
High jump, long jump, shot put, javelin throw, hammer throw, 100-metre dash, Olga seems to have done it all. Once she strained a muscle doing the shot put. Someone asked: “So what did you do?” Olga replied: “I just used the other arm.”
She’s been studied, prodded, tested by researchers. There are theories but no ultimate explanation of her prowess. It puzzles her too.
A short (five-foot), lean, well-proportioned woman, she has pride of built-up success at an age when many formerly outstanding athletes even half her age have lost their edge and shape. Clearly, time has thinned out competitors in her age group, but many people decades younger couldn’t match her feats.
Adding to the puzzlement is that Olga was, to coin a phrase, a late bloomer. She didn’t enter competitive track and field until age 77.
She’s been profiled by this paper’s (versatile and funny) columnist Andy Prest, and by the undersigned. North Vancouver writer Bruce Grierson, who wrote a long piece on Olga for the New York Times Magazine in 2010, has written a 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 was just released Tuesday by Random House Canada and Henry Holt and Co. in the U.S., so I haven’t read it. But for all its insights one doubts whether anyone who followed Olga’s regimen to the letter could hold a javelin to her, or duplicate her success.
It’s weird. Wonderfully weird.
Busy arts lady and former West Van councillor Liz Byrd warmly recommends an unusual — dress and costume historian Ivan Sayers’ Music & Fashions: Signs of the Times.
Byrd’s trumpeting is appropriate: This is a fashion show with extra ambition, the first in Vancouver gem Sayers’ 40-plus years accompanied by music that matches the times of the dress — from 1650 to the present — by the Donna Fishwick Piano Ensemble and Lions Gate Sinfonia under Maestro Clyde Mitchell.
Sounds like a ball, with elegant gowns to match. It’s on Sunday, Jan. 26 at the Centennial Theatre, 3 p.m., but there’s a 2 p.m. chat that could be worth the price of admission alone.
Ever wonder how safe you are, sans seat belts, on a Blue Bus or any urban bus? And what aid you can expect if you’re injured? Last month a West Van-bound 250 Blue Bus braked sharply in heavy traffic on the Stanley Park causeway. A passenger on a side-facing seat was hurtled hard onto the barrier behind the driver. An ambulance was summoned. Some women passengers offered paper handkerchiefs to the injured and bleeding rider.
The driver, who earlier had shown thoughtful courtesy to a passenger — common on our good WV buses -— offered no first aid. Calls confirmed that TransLink gives no first-aid training to drivers. Nor do buses carry firstaid kits.
Jeff McDonald, town hall’s acting communications director, explained: “What is Blue Bus’s legal liability in a case like this? The answer is that it is handled as with any other vehicle accident through the Insurance Corp. of B.C.” My translation: Drivers are advised that providing help could attract legal liability.
So when drivers don’t attend to the injured in such incidents, that’s why. Just in case you expect it.
I’ll give town hall a New Year’s resolution, no charge: Lighthouse Park is a gem in the West Vancouver crown. So resolve to scour the $135-million-odd budget for cash to fix the damned entrance.
The road “surface” is a disgrace, a roller coaster of potholes that demand a dead-slow crawl by vehicles and, on rain-soaked days, are deep enough to drown walkers’ small dogs. Visitors attracted by the park’s fame must be jolted, literally, by this mess.
Spies state that a major road reconfiguration lies ahead. Can’t come soon enough.
© Trevor Lautens, 2014