Charlie Futrell, who turns 76 next month, is as busy as ever training for his fifth consecutive Ironman Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii. But he has taken time for a reunion in Laurel, Md., with men he coached in football almost a half-century ago and for his mountainside cornfield so he could feed 300 people at a fish fry he oversees every year in Brevard, N.C.
Charlie and his wife, Peggy, spend half of the year in Pinellas County and half in the Connestee Falls community of Brevard. They will return this fall to their Tarpon Springs mobile home park, where they moved in 1994 after 15 years at Clearwater's On Top of the World complex.
My wife and I visited the Futrells during our North Carolina vacation this month, marveling at their energetic aura and physical fitness. Since taking up running at age 58, Charlie has competed in more than 300 road races, including two New York Marathons and the last four Ironman Triathlons.
The Ironman, you should know, includes a 2.4-mile ocean swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile run. Charlie finished third in the 70-74 age group his first two years. In 1994, he finished second. Last year, strong headwinds during the bicycle race prevented Charlie _ and all other competitors over 68 _ from making the required cutoff time, so they were disqualified from the running portion of the event.
Charlie this year will join 1,450 triathletes from around the world who qualified for the Ironman by meeting specified times in other races. He expects 10 or 11 competitors in the 75-and-over age group, including Jim Ward, 78, of Seminole.
While in Pinellas, Charlie runs and bikes on the Pinellas Trail and swims at the Long Center. In North Carolina, he runs on the 52 miles of paved roads in Connestee Falls and bicycles along highways all over Transylvania County and beyond. He has been swimming at an indoor YMCA pool in nearby Hendersonville, but now will switch to the lake in front of his home. The water has warmed up, and he has installed two buoys a quarter-mile apart.
Charlie has been swimming about four miles a week, running 45 miles and bicycling 180-200 miles. But he'll increase those distances as the Oct. 15 Ironman draws closer.
And his wife? Peggy is 80, but looks as fit and trim as a 50-year-old. She has been doing aerobics for 20 years and leading an aerobics class at Connestee Falls for 17 years.
They returned this month to Laurel, Md., where Charlie coached at Laurel Junior-Senior High School from 1947 to '57. He started out coaching soccer, a game he had never even seen, which was replaced by football after two years. His first football team didn't score a point and went 0-6. His second team scored a touchdown but went 0-7. Then his teams started winning games and in 1955 ranked eighth among all public and private schools in the Washington, D.C., area.
Many of his former football players gathered July 13 for an emotional reunion and picnic at which they also raised money for the "old coach's" Ironman expenses.
Then it was back to Connestee Falls, where Charlie for the 12th year was in charge of the annual fish fry. He ordered 165 pounds of catfish fillets and picked more than 300 ears of corn from his own field to feed the 289 people who attended.
Charlie said he has had to give up fishing and golf _ along with housework, Peggy added _ because of the time-consuming triathlon training.
But life is good. The Futrells will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary Nov. 9, probably with a party in Tarpon Springs.