If you ask Carlos Valenzuela of West New York how many years he and his wife, Olga, have been married, he will not tell you a number.
“There are no numbers in our marriage,” he said with a smile, “because we can’t remember.”
Still, it’s hard to imagine there’s a husband and wife who have found more strength in their significant other than the Valenzuelas, who have been married for 78 years.
That’s right, 78 years. Carlos, affectionately known as “Carlito,” married Olga, or “Olgita” in 1936, the year Hitler reoccupied the Rhineland. The year the Hoover Dam was built. The year Jesse Owens won the 100-meter dash in Berlin.
Carlos was born in 1904. Teddy Roosevelt was the President of the United States. Eleven years later, in 1915, when Olga was born, Alexander Graham Bell had just made the first long-distance phone call from New York City to San Francisco and Babe Ruth had just hit his first career home run.
Carlos, 107, is most likely the oldest man in the state of New Jersey, a title he will strengthen his claim to this September when he celebrates his 108th birthday.
“Dancing, always dancing. That and eating the right things. Seafood and rice with duck.” - Carlos Valenzuela, 107, on the secret to living a happy and healthy life.
An Associated Press story than ran on Thursday said the longest married couple in the U.S. lives in Fairfield, Conn., and has been together more than 80 years. But they are not the oldest; they are only 101 and 97.
Birthday coming up
Speaking about his upcoming birthday, Carlos didn’t seem to be focused on his age.
“I will celebrate happily with my family,” he said through a translator.
Originally from Peru, Carlos and Olga came to the United States about 20 years ago to be closer to their children. They have seven, most of whom live in America. The oldest, who is 76, still lives in Peru.
“Coming to America was an experiment for a new life for them,” said Valenzuela’s son-in-law, Oscar Roa. “We wanted to complete the family by having them live here.”
Roa said he believed the couple’s longevity has everything to do with their love for their family.
“There are benefits to having the family altogether,” he said.
Dr. Jorge Figueroa, the Valenzuelas’ personal physician, said that aside from the natural effects of aging, Carlos and Olga are in near perfect health.
“They are essentially defeating age,” said Figueroa, who has been seeing them for around 15 years. They used to visit his office on 60th Street, until it became too much of a trek, so Figueroa started making house calls.
During one such call Wednesday morning, Carlos greeted Figueroa with the energy of a much younger man, and conversed with doctor rapidly in Spanish, a smile wide across his face the whole time.
“For his age, the energy he has is amazing,” said Figueroa. “It makes me wonder sometimes if he is unique in some way that I cannot see.”
During the visit, Figueroa’s nurses took blood samples from both Carlos and Olga, a standard procedure, said the doctor.
“Their bloodwork is wonderful, every time,” he said.
Figueroa said there is really no medical explanation for why the Valenzuelas have lived so long, but that it could be related to any number of things.
“It could be diet. I know Carlos loves to eat seafood,” he said.
Jeanne Calment, a Frenchwoman who lived to be 122, longer than anyone in recorded history, credited her longevity to diet as well. She cited olive oil, port wine and nearly two pounds of chocolate a week. Clearly, conventional wisdom can be wrong sometimes.
“In all seriousness,” the doctor said of the couple’s longevity, “I think it is happiness. I’m often overwhelmed by Carlos’ happiness.”
Figueroa said that sometimes even he cannot believe it when he looks at their test results.
“It makes me wonder about how human beings are all the same, but at the same time can be so different,” he said. “I think there are questions about why some people live so long that, quite simply, no one has answers to.”
Figueroa refused to take credit for the Valenzuelas’ health, and said his care for them is very basic.
“I do what any physician would do, basic physical check-ups and things like that,” he said. “That said, I am very honored to be their physician.”
Living life to the fullest
The Valenzuelas were just waking up when Dr. Figueroa visited on Wednesday, but they aren’t bedridden by any stretch. Like any senior citizens, they move a little slower than the rest of us, but the playful spirit is still there.
Asked how it feels to have lived so long, Carlos thought for several seconds before answering.
“Suficientemente bueno para bailar,” he said. “It feels good enough to dance.”
Dancing, he said, is the secret to staying healthy.
“Dancing, always dancing,” he said. “That and eating the right things. Seafood and rice with duck.”
But the secrets to staying healthy are not necessarily the same as staying happy.
“You have to live your days to the fullest,” he said. “Face life with intensity.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org