By Chuck Goldberg
Orville Rogers may be 95 years old, but remains a competitive world-record-setting runner, after taking up the sport at age 50, and even went skydiving at 90 and hang-gliding at 93.
While his contemporaries nurse their health, Rogers continues living vibrantly. His secret is found in the Bible, which he reads every year—now in the midst of his 50th time. Long ago he decided to embrace 1 Corinthians 6:19,20, which says the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
His zeal for running began suddenly, when he came across Dr. Kenneth Cooper's 1968 book, “Aerobics.” He began running the next day.
In March 2008, Rogers entered his first competition in the 90 to 94 group, setting several world records, including a mile in under 10 minutes. When he became eligible for the 95 to 99 category, he set six more world records.
When Rogers became convinced the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, he had no evidence that exercise was beneficial, but evidence over the last 40 years has been abundant.
“At least two dozen scientific studies have been published and peer reviewed—all showing a direct correlation between physical fitness and longevity and good health,” says Rogers. “Exercise keeps the body the temple of the Holy Ghost for service and for a long life.”
Graduating in 1940 from the University of Oklahoma in Norman with a mechanical engineering degree, Rogers headed for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, TX. He figured on a career in either music or as a missionary, but really wanted to become a pilot. He felt this was somewhat “preordained,” since his mother had named him after one of the Wright brothers.
However, after only about three weeks in seminary, Rogers got his draft notice. Without a deferment, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was called up five weeks before the Pearl Harbor attack. Though he wanted to be in action, he wound up as an aviation instructor throughout the war, later realizing this was “the best thing that could have happened.”
After the war, he was a pilot for 31 years with Dallas-based Braniff Airways, but did get recalled in 1951 during the Korean War to join a select quick-response crew that flew the B-36 bomber—the prime deterrent against Russia, according to Rogers. However, that is one mission he is glad he never had to run. Ironically, during a missions trip to Russia, he realized he was about five miles from one of his former targets.
“Instead of raining down death, I was passing out life—sharing the gospel and handing out the Bible 52 years later,” he says.
Upon his Braniff retirement, he continued flying missions for an arm of the Wycliffe Bible organization called JAARS: Jungle Aviation and Radio Service, delivering planes worldwide for missionary pilots. He became JAARS board chairman for 13 years and its director for 39 years. He flew similar missions for the Southern Baptists, delivering planes throughout Africa, often able to take his wife Esther Beth along.
For 13 months they lived in Tanzania, filling in for another pilot. They flew all over the country and southern Kenya in a Cessna 210 six-seater, carrying missionaries, national pastors, visitors, freight, mail and considerable Christian literature.
“I was the happiest man in the world at that time when I found that I could serve God through aviation,” says Rogers. “It was a deep satisfaction to be able to do that for my Lord.”
He retired from flying at age 79, still fully qualified. After nearly 65 years of marriage, he lost his wife in March 2008 at age 89. They had four children—three still living—as well as 13 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. Rogers has lived in Dallas since 1946.
To ensure his body remains a temple of the Holy Spirit, Rogers runs 10 to 12 miles weekly, splitting that into three sessions, and lifts weights. When preparing for an event, he has to devise his own regimen, since none exist for someone of his age, he says. It involves stretching, running a couple laps, then jogging and finally sprinting.
At 5-foot-8, he maintains his weight around 150 eating two meals daily, saying three would be excessive for him. For protein, he concentrates upon fish and chicken, having little red meat. He rounds out his diet with soy and grains and lots of produce. Along with a good diet, he resolved also to maintain a good attitude.
“I determined a long time ago I would be a happy person,” he says, “and I rejoice that I have been allowed that privilege.”
Rogers has had his share of health problems, including a stroke in April 2011 that paralyzed his left hand, foot and hip, leaving him wondering if his competing days were over. However, his feeling returned after several days, and he remained faithful to the aggressive rehab program he requested.
“I think I surprised them, because after about two months, I was fully functional,” he says. “Today, I have a little loss of feeling in my left hand, but it doesn't handicap me at all.”
He says that Dr. Cooper—also his personal physician for 40-plus years, assures him that despite high blood pressure and high cholesterol, he remains in good health.
Meanwhile, Rogers has outlived all his competition, but plans to continue running races.
“I hope to live to 100,” he says. “Then I will be in another age group and set more records.”
Chuck Goldberg has a degree in journalism and a Master of Divinity in Christian education. A former newspaper reporter and magazine managing editor, he is now an ordained minister and freelance writer-editor. He and his wife Dolly have three children and live in Layton, Utah.