After Charlie Futrell retired from teaching middle-school history and phys-ed in 1976, the former college and pro baseball player put on a few pounds, as a lot of us in our 50s do. But a couple of years later, when he saw a pair of sneakers in a store’s bargain bin for just $3, he decided to do a little running and try to get back in shape. His first jog left him gasping for breath. OK, a lot of us have done that, too.
But what made Futrell, who passed away Sept. 2 in North Carolina at age 92, stand out is that after that initial discouragement, he kept at it, and wasn’t satisfied just to get back in shape. By the time he’d reached his mid-60s, he was so fit that he began competing in triathlons, those grueling endurance events that combine running with cycling and swimming. Over the next several decades, he competed in 120 of them.
Futrell even took on the sport’s signature event, Hawaii’s Ironman triathlon, which requires competitors to complete a 2.4 mile open-water swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a full 26.2-mile marathon. From 1992 to 1997, when he was in his 70s, Futrell did six Ironmans. In 1992 and 1994, he finished third in the world in his age group.
That would have been an astonishing athletic career in itself. But Futrell wasn’t ready to stop. In 2011, he swam a quarter mile, cycled 10 miles and then ran another three miles in 2:18:38, becoming the first — and so far only — nonagenarian to finish a triathlon officially sanctioned by USA Triathlon, the sport’s American governing body.
What was Futrell’s secret? He loved competition — “I have a will to win,” he once told an interviewer — and was still competing in races as recently as six months ago. And he liked to work hard. He typically exercised for three hours a day, running on a treadmill, swimming and taking spinning classes. “On my days off,” he added, “I walk.”
(If you’re interested in emulating his workouts, check out Futrell’s website, which contains both the details of his exercise plan and some diet tips.)