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Meet the 101-Year-Old Marathon Man

At 101 years young, Orville Rogers still has a spring in his step and shows no signs of slowing down. the former airline pilot still remembers the day he fell in love with flying. “I was a young boy about ten years old, and (Charles) Lindbergh circled my school house, in 1927, after his transatlantic solo flight,” Orville recalls. “That cemented my desire to be a pilot.”

Around that same time, Orville felt another call. he came to faith in Christ and has never looked back.  “In this little town of Sulfur, Oklahoma, my mother took my sister and me across the street to a southern Baptist small church and one Sunday night, I just felt God calling me to repent of my sins and to trust Him as my Lord and Savior,” he says. “It is a decision I have never regretted.”

Orville received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma and was enrolled in seminary in 1940 when World War II broke out.  “I asked them if I could enroll in the Army Air Corp and learn to fly instead of being in the walking Army and they said sure. So that was God’s way of turning me around from what I perceived to be a career in vocational Christian service to one every bit as important, a layman in God’s service doing His work for His glory.”  

That work included a 30-year career as a commercial pilot as well as flying missionary trips to South America and Africa. “In 1965, I met the founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators, William Cameron Townsend,” Orville says. “I said ‘I’m an airline pilot. Is there any way I could plug into your program?’ He said, ‘Well we have an airplane in Miami and then they asked me to fly it to Bogota, which was my first ferry flight experience with Wycliffe or the Southern Baptists. I eventually ended up ferrying 46 missionary airplanes, twenty of them inside the United States and 26 of them were in South America or over the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. So that was quite a challenge to fly across an ocean in a single engine airplane.”

Orville and his wife moved to Dallas where Orville began flying for Braniff airlines. “Most of my flying for Brannif was domestic, inside the United States. But the last 15 or 16 months I flew to South America flying the stretch DC-8, which at that time was one of the largest airplanes in the airline service. We had one flight that flew from New York to Buenos Aires, 10 hours and 40 minutes. But at that time, I think we had the longest flight in the airline industry.”

Along the way, Orville and his wife also began investing in real estate and the oil and gas industries, which enabled them to later support many ministries. “My wife and I determined that we had to increase our giving, which we did, and God blessed our investments and in the course of my wife's and I, our marriage together, and since her death, she and I have given away over $35 million to God's work, Orville says. “Now, to put that in perspective, you need to realize that my total earnings from Braniff and the Air Corps and the Air Force were about $1,600,000. So God was able to multiply that, I think, because of our faithfulness.”

One missions trip to Russia in 2004 brought Orville full circle. “In 1952, I was flying a B 36, the largest airplane in the world, and our primary retaliatory strike force against Russia if war had broken out, my target, was located just on the north side of Moscow,” he recalls. “Fifty-two years later, in 2004, my wife and I were on a missionary team. We docked on the northwest side of Moscow. We had our medical clinics and did street witnessing, all within about five miles of where my target was to drop an atom bomb. Instead of death and destruction from above, we were carrying in God’s word, the Word of Life, to the Russian people.”

He also became a long-distance runner after reading several studies on longevity and exercise.

“Dr. I Min Lee, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, complied a study and her conclusion was that people who exercise very vigorously for long periods of time, could expect to get back in added lifespan, nine hours of added life for every one hour of physical exercise. That is phenomenal.”

Orville not only ran a number of marathons; he holds two world records in the 90-100 age category. “I entered two races in Boston, Massachusetts March 23rd, 2008: the 800 meter and the one-mile run,” Orville says. “And three weeks before the race in March 2008, my wife died.  I talked to my children about it and we agreed she'd want me to continue to compete, so I did. And I won the 800 meters, set a new world record. The mile record, I really slaughtered. I ran it in 9:57.”

Two years ago, Orville wrote his life story in his book, The Running Man. “It tells of my experiences in life, my flying, my running, my giving, and my family life and I hope it's of a benefit and a help to people who may be questioning how they need to serve the Lord better.”

Orville says his desire has always been to run the race well, as the Apostle Paul encourages us, and to finish well.  “I never asked God for fame, riches, or long life, and he's given me all three. I don’t want to fail my Lord in the last days of my life,” he says. “I have seen too many people, too many examples, of people in public life who failed somehow or another, in their later years, to keep their high moral standards. That’s the primary prayer of my life these days: that I would live well for Jesus as long as he gives me life and breath.”

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