ESF’s ENDURING ATHLETE OF THE MONTH – FEBRUARY
By Pete Williams
ST. PETERSBURG – Charlie Futrell took a little longer to finish this morning’s Chilly Willy Duathlon at Fort DeSoto Park but perhaps that’s understandable.
After all, it’s a little more challenging to run 3.1 miles, bike 10, and run another 3.1 when you’re going to be 92 years old in August.
Futrell, who also competes in triathlon, is believed to be the oldest person ever to compete a multisport event, a record he adds to each time he races. Futrell, who lives near Orlando, is nine months older than John Taylor, a longtime rival who lives in Atlanta.
“Longtime” is a relative term since Futrell was in his late 50s when triathlon exploded into the sports world with Ironman in the late 1970s. Futrell raced his first triathlon at 65 and in 1992, at the age of 72, made his Ironman Kona debut, the first of six consecutive appearances.
He posted his best time (15:35:23) that year, finishing third in his age group to two guys who had won gold medals in swimming at the 1936 Olympics. He would have finished fourth were it not for a push at the end when he caught Norton Davey, who at 74 had been featured by media outlets for years as one of Ironman’s oldest competitors. (Davey died in 2003).
“I managed to catch him with 300 yards to go, right when you can start to hear all the crowd noise,” Futrell said. “Looking back, that’s been my most memorable accomplishment.”
There have been many others.
Futrell was a star baseball player at East Carolina Teachers College (now East Carolina University) from 1938-41 and is in the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame. During World War II, he served as a U.S. Air Force physical training instructor. After a brief stint playing minor league baseball, he began a long career in Maryland as a high school teacher who also coached baseball, basketball, football, and soccer. Among his students: a young Sylvester Stallone.
When it comes to longevity, Futrell has followed the proper game plan – and not just when it comes to physical activity. He’s remained active socially and in his community and was married for 62 years before his wife died from cancer three years ago.
Futrell maintains a constant weight of 152 despite only recently eliminating his evening ice cream ritual. He no longer drinks coffee and follows a healthy diet heavy on fruits. For years he’s gone to bed at 9:30 and risen at 7.
He recently added regular 45-minute spin classes to his routines, which include two to three hours of daily training. He averages one triathlon or duathlon a month during the season and runs 5Ks during the Florida winters.
“I’ve stuck to my routines, goals, and monitored my eating,” Futrell says. “I’ve been doing that for a lot of years and keeping that regular schedule is important.”
Futrell has a rotator cuff injury that forces him at times to flip over on his back during the swim and perform a modified backstroke during triathlons. Since he relies on prescription eyeglasses to see, he usually has a friend in a kayak guide him along the swim. Today a friend accompanied him throughout the Chilly Willy Duathlon.
As for regrets, Futrell says he wishes he had known 60 years ago the importance of taking care of his skin. He has been treated for skin cancer and sees a dermatologist regularly. Other than that, he’s a model of good health. Futrell is such a popular figure in Florida triathlon circles that a race director of youth triathlons in the Tampa Bay area invites him to attend events.
Futrell, whose accomplishments are chronicled at http://www.charliefutrell.com, shows up in race attire with 92 written on his calf. Parents jump at the opportunity to shoot a rear-calf photo of their children alongside him. (He’s “already” 92 since by USA Triathlon rules athletes race as the age they will turn in the calendar year.)
Futrell enjoys talking to groups, especially youngsters who inevitably ask how he can swim in Florida lakes when alligators could be present. He smiles and dodges the question, “They’ll never bother you unless you’re hungry,” he says.
“I always enjoy it when parents and grandparents of athletes tell me I’ve inspired them because of what I’m showing is possible at 90,” Futrell says. “I plan to keep competing for as long as my body will let me.”