Under an arch of pink and yellow roses at the NYU Langone Shore Hill Neighborhood Center in Brooklyn, wearing a crown and sash declaring her “Birthday Princess,” Goldie Sohn celebrated her 107th birthday with some of her favorite people: teammates and coaches of the New York Road Runners Striders program.
Striders is offered at community and senior centers throughout New York. It’s a free, weekly, coached walking session for adults age 50 and older. Sohn, the eldest of the nearly 2,000 participants in the city, has been with the group for five years.
“Ms. Goldie,” as she’s known to most of her circle in Bensonhurst, has attended 41 of the 49 Striders sessions at her center in the last year. That record participation is made more awe-inspiring given that she was born just five days before the Titanic sunk in 1912—prematurely, and weighing just more than one pound. (And yes, that was before incubators were invented.)
“She talks constantly about how physical activity has given her a long life and her health,” said Rachel Pratt, NYRR senior vice president of youth and community services programs, during a phone interview. “I don’t know if it’s because we’re in the room or if she tells everybody this, but she really attributes her life to this.”
Sohn is mostly confined to seated activities at this point, but she still participates in exercises that aid in strength, coordination, and flexibility. But perhaps most importantly, she reaps the benefits of a physical activity that also provides a connection to the community.
“The social network is really important for seniors, especially those living alone,” Pratt said. “Like all of our runners and people who take up sport, part of the attraction is the ability to be social around it and have a community of people who are also active.”
Those who see Sohn on a weekly basis attest that her commitment inspires her peers to keep moving, too.
“She loves to sing, dance, and exercise. She’s slowed down a bit this year, but we still consider her a very vibrant member of this community,” Laurn Volkmer, NYU Langone director of services for older adults told the Brooklyn Reporter. “From what [Sohn’s] daughter shared, this is something that keeps her going. This is something she looks forward to in the mornings.”
Pratt said that the time she spends with Striders is motivating for her own running future. She’s joined them on weekly walks, when they break up into pace groups, and cover up to 5K in their neighborhoods.
“They have this ability to come out and embrace life and create a real community,” she said. “At some point you slow down in running and you’re not able to do what you want to do. This is a road forward and a pathway to be active throughout your life.”
As for Ms. Goldie, she’ll keep doing her leg lifts and arm exercises for as long as she able, continuing to set a high standard for the young 80somethings at the center.
“When I went to her 106th birthday party last year, she just gripped my hand and looked at me in the eyes and told me what she was thinking,” Pratt said. “That was an amazing moment, feeling her warmth and intelligence and energy.”