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10 People Who Achieved Great Things after 90
It’s never too late to begin. You’ve heard the adage before. Whether it was from your mother encouraging you to get your school homework done before bed or whether it was someone heading headfirst into a midlife crisis by shopping around for a motorcycle that might boost their coolness factor. In a world telling us to reach pinnacles of success earlier and earlier in our lives, it is sometimes good to stop, take a deep breath, and take stock of where you are in life, reminding yourself that it’s not the end until it is the end.
Medical advancements have given us longer lives than any of our ancestors, so whether you hope to be the first person on Mars or the first human being to swim from Miami to London, it’s never too late to begin. Here are 10 people who have achieved great feats after the age of ninety.
10 Mathea Allensmith–The Runner
If you are pondering New Year’s resolutions, considering quitting smoking, and wondering whether you are too old to complete a marathon, know that there likely is more time for you. More time than you know.
In December 2022, Mathea Allensmith, a retired ophthalmologist from Hawaii, became the oldest person to finish a marathon at the ripe age of 92 years, 6 months, and 11 days. She beat out the previous record holder, Harriet Thompson, by several months.
It’s not at all surprising that her training schedule is quite intense, running six days a week to clock in a cumulative 36 running miles (58 kilometers) even while on vacation. Nobody said it would be easy, but Mathea proved that it was possible.
9 Anna Mary Robertson Moses–The Artist
When can one say you have made it as a painter? When you sell your first piece? When your mother incessantly posts about your work on her social media? When people start talking about you in coffee shops and at galleries? Or when presidents sing your praise?
Perhaps President Harry S. Truman playing the piano or Nelson Rockefeller declaring there is “no more renowned artist in our entire country today” can be considered a success story. And even more impressive, Anna did it all in her late nineties and even over the century mark.
Better known the world over as Grandma Moses, it took her 78 years to really delve into the skill of painting, learning the art form from scratch and spending time perfecting her craft. She painted thousands of paintings, which sold for thousands more.
8 Doris Haddock–The Walker
Doris Haddock technically set out on her trip at age 89, but it took her well into her 90s to take a shot in an attempt to make her dream happen.
A staunch activist for finance reform, Granny D, as she had affectionately been named, undertook a fourteen-month trek across the U.S., from Pasadena to Washington, to raise awareness for her cause. When she finally reached her destination after quite an arduous journey, she had traveled more than 3,200 miles (5,149 kilometers) and was given a hero’s welcome from over 2,200 people. A few members of Congress even joined her on her last few miles.
Her stunt worked, and she garnered positive media attention, enough to also get her political aspirations off the ground and even pen a few books. She made her voice heard until the age of 100 before she passed.
7 Nola Ochs–The Graduate
Not everybody has the opportunity to further advance their academic knowledge. It’s often touted as an invaluable addition to your professional life, but unfortunately for some, it might just be inaccessible.
For Nola Ochs, it became a reality after family life kept her busy for the first 90-plus years of her life. At the age of 95, she graduated college and continued to take classes like a diligent student even into her 100s. At the time she earned her first degree (a general studies degree with a history emphasis at Fort Hays State University), she was certified by Guinness World Records as the oldest college graduate in the world. But she didn’t stop there.
Nola continued to earn a master’s degree in liberal studies at the age of 98, proving that it is never too late to learn.
6 Leonid Hurwicz–The Nobel Prize Winner
Proof that even in adversity, there is opportunity, Leonid Horwicz waited until the very end of his life to reach the pinnacle.
Born in Moscow in 1919, Hurwicz was forced to move around Europe during the rise of Nazi Germany until he settled in Chicago in 1940. It was 20 years later that Leonid, a law graduate, began working on his groundbreaking work that eventually earned him his Nobel Prize.
Leonid also designed the “walking subcacus” method, a system designed to protect minority rights, utilizing a proportional voting system still used during Democratic precinct caucuses. Impressive as that is, he was awarded his Nobel Prize in 2007 for his formulation of mechanism design theory that etched his name in the annals of history. He was 90.
5 George and Doreen Kirby–The Newlyweds
Have you given up hope of experiencing love? Does it feel as though you are destined to live your life without ever finding the one? Whether you believe in such a thing as a soulmate or not, perhaps all you need is some luck and some trust that it’s never too late.
George and Doreen Kirby (aged 104 and 91, respectively) are the perfect example of what could happen, even in the very distant future, should you never give up on love. After being together for more than 27 years, the pair got engaged on the most romantic day of the year (commercially romantic, at least), Valentine’s Day, even though George is no longer able to get down on one knee.
They were confirmed as the oldest couple ever to tie the knot, and on the day the record was confirmed, one of their grandchildren gave birth to a little boy, proudly named after his record-setting great-grandfather.
4 Jerome Defraitus–The Skateboarder
When we were bright-eyed youngsters, we all had dreams of being the best at something–lifting the cup, taking the gold, going pro. For most, being paid for doing something you love is nothing but a pipe dream, and skateboarding is no exception. When you are not Rodney Mullen by the age of 20, what is the point in continuing?
Jerome Defraitus turns the concept of “too late to go pro” entirely on its head. After turning pro in 1931, Defraitus became the oldest professional skateboarder in the world, continuing to skate well into his 90s as he cemented his position as one of the legends of the sport.
Like most competitive sportspeople, Jerome considered himself one of the best in the world when he was younger. Perhaps it’s safer to suggest that he was, after the age of 90, the undisputed champion of the world for his age.
3 Gloria Tramontin Struck–The Biker
Sometimes, when life gets us down, all we want to do is escape. Get on the open road and take off into the sunset. Leave our troubles behind with the roar of the engine and the wind in our hair.
After falling in love with the two-wheeled machines at the young age of 16, Gloria has been blazing up the roads on various motorcycles for over 75 years, putting more than 700,000 miles (1.12 million kilometers) behind her as she went.
Known as the Grand Dame of motorcycling, Gloria has achieved legendary status, experiencing the changes the biking world underwent before WW2 and after it, when biking experienced a boom in the ’50s. Gloria’s next goal is to do cross-country after she turns 100, and it seems nothing will get in her way.
2 Dorothy Hoffner–The Skydiver
While we were wondering whether we would ever have the guts to attempt something as daring as skydiving, Dorothy Hoffener was busy beating the previous record holder, Linnéa Ingegärd Larsson (aged 103), as she became the oldest person ever to skydive at the age of 104.
With a jump of 13,500 feet (4,114 meters), Dorothy made a lifelong dream of hers come true without even telling her family. Although Dorothy unfortunately never lived to see her record confirmed, we doubt her reason for attempting the daring stunt was for fame or record books, seeing that she was quite upset about the publicity she received from the stunt.
Dorothy’s insistence on living life to the fullest, right up to the last week of her life, shows that you are never too old to jump from a plane or face whatever fear you may have.
1 Phyllis Sues–The Fitness Instructor
We are approaching that time of year when we contemplate our New Year’s resolutions. Whether you believe in resolutions or not, a healthy, balanced exercise regime is something we all should aspire to. Still, sometimes, we just need a little inspiration. Phyllis Sues was exactly that.
Well into her nineties, Phyllis wowed the world with her fitness and her ability to do the splits, keeping her body fitter than most, branching out to yoga and fitness instructor, and producing a series of instructional videos.
But her endeavor did not end there. Phyllis also ran her own company and wrote a book, 20 Tips to Change Your Life, before she passed away at age 98. She showed that we all have no excuse for not living our best lives.