Irene Obera may be 84, but she runs and jumps like someone decades younger. Need proof? She still runs the 100-meter dash in about 18 seconds and clocks 40 seconds in the 200-meter hurdle. And, she’s been reeling in world records for 40 years.
“I don’t think about age, like most people do. I’d run against a 5-year-old or a 20-year-old. It doesn’t matter,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle when she was 81.
Obera grew up in San Bernardino, Calif., where softball was her sport of choice. She even played at Chico State. She didn’t set foot on the track until she was in her mid-20s, after seeing a film about female track athletes while attending a conference for physical education teachers. Soon after, she joined a track club in San Francisco, developing her speed and cultivating her passion for the sport.
She went on to run in the 1960 and 1968 Olympic trials, and overshadowed other track athletes at the Masters level in her 40s and 50s.
By the time she reached 80, her coach encouraged her to expand her repertoire beyond sprinting, and enter other track events such as the long jump. Since then, she’s set numerous world records in the 80-84 age group.
With the philosophy of “if you don’t move it, you lose it,” she’s as active as they come. Bowling and tennis are regular events on her weekly schedule, as is hitting the track and dominating in the gym three to four times per week.
Just as impressive as her achievements on the track, her personal life is worthy of applause, too.
She was a teacher, counselor and administrator in the Berkeley Unified School District for decades, inspiring youth and fellow educators to live their best lives and follow their dreams. And, just because she’s retired now doesn’t mean she’s stopped influencing others.
“To me, I don’t think about age as being a handicap. It’s just a process. So, why not live?” she told BBC. “Like my father told me, ‘Don’t ever let race, your sex, gender and age ever stand in the way of you doing what you want to do.”