Now 90 years young, Futrell has been passionate about athletics and physical fitness for most of his life. Born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1920, Futrell was raised in Greenville, North Carolina, so it made sense for him to enroll at East Carolina Teachers College. (It helped that the ratio of girls to boys at ECTC at the time was 10:1.) He was captain of the baseball team and batted .404 during his senior year. He also played on the football team. Upon graduation, he received a degree in physical education and history. “I have so many memories of East Carolina. I grew up across the street and I think I was the first water boy the football team ever had,” said Futrell. “One of my fondest memories of attending ECTC is hitting my first homerun when we played Oak Ridge Military Academy.”
After graduating from East Carolina, Futrell enlisted in the United States Army Air Force (the precursor to today’s Air Force) and served 45 months active duty as a physical training instructor at the Bainbridge, Georgia Air Base. He was discharged in December 1945, and then attended UNC-Chapel Hill in 1946 where he played on the varsity baseball team. For his baseball talent, Futrell was recruited to the Coastal Plain League where he played for the Greenies.
By 1947, Futrell was back in touch with his Teachers College roots and was a high school coach in Laurel, Maryland. He coached all major sports, including soccer, which he had never played, and started the football program at Laurel High School in 1949. In 1955, his LHS football team was undefeated and ranked 7th among all high schools in the Washington, D.C. area. After more than a decade of coaching, Futrell headed back to the classroom where he taught U.S. History and physical education. His most famous student was an 8th grader named Sylvester Stallone. “He was a very aggressive fellow and could usually be found down in the weight room—even at age 13. Sylvester was the kind of guy that if there were 15 boys on the field and you threw a ball in the air and said ‘Whoever catches the ball will be the captain of the team,’ he’d come back with the ball,” recalled Futrell of the Rocky
Futrell retired from teaching in 1976. Two years later he bought the running shoes—he was 58 years old. Always an athlete, Futrell was determined to be a successful runner. He entered his first road race, a 5K in Safety Harbor, Florida, in 1980. Futrell was pleased that he finished the race. Since that first race, Futrell has competed in more than 400 road races, varying in distance from 3.1 miles (5K) to 6.2 miles (10K) to 26.2 miles (marathon). “I’ve always been a competitive person. When I was in high school I think I was the slowest runner on the football team, but by my senior year at ECTC I couldn’t be outrun. I think that’s why I love running. I have a will to win. It’s great to be #1, it’s not so great to be #2.”
Training has been important to Futrell, not only for physical fitness, but also to excel in his sport. Lynn Edwards, a top senior female athlete, helped train Futrell in the mountains of western North Carolina. Jim Ward, another top senior athlete, trained Futrell in Florida. In 1985, at age 65, Futrell competed in his first triathlon, thanks to the encouragement of Jim Ward. One thing led to another, and by 1992, Futrell competed in his first Ironman World Championship event in Kailua Kona, Hawaii.
An Ironman Triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run. Competitors race the events in that specific order and must complete their attempt in 17 hours. Most Ironman Championships begin at 7:00 a.m. and allow 2 hours, 20 minutes for the swimming portion. Bike riding must be complete by 5:30 p.m. and the marathon finished by midnight. Competitors race without a break, as they have done since the competition’s inception in 1978. Intense heat, humidity, hills, and high winds, as well as the distance—140.6 miles of continuous racing—characterize Ironman competitions. In the 1992 competition, Futrell placed 3rd in the world for his age group and 1st from the United States. From 1992-1997 he competed in six consecutive Ironman competitions, coming in 3rd in the world again in 1994. Futrell has competed in more than 100 triathlons and is a 17-time All-American Triathlete.
To train for each Ironman competition, Futrell dedicated 4-6 hours a day for six months prior to the event for preparation. “Competing in my first Ironman competition is my most memorable. I remember sprinting across the finish line and feeling such a thrill. It was a tremendous feeling to have raced 140.6 miles and to cross the finish line in 15 hours, 35 minutes, and 23 seconds,” said Futrell.
In 2005, USA Triathlon rated him the #1 senior triathlete for his age group in the country—an honor Futrell carried for the next two years. He was ranked #2 in 2008 and #3 in 2009. Futrell has been featured in a number of magazines and newspaper articles for his racing success, and in 1993 he was inducted into the East Carolina University Athletic Hall of Fame.
These days, Futrell competes in Olympic distance races (1-mile swim, 25-mile bike race, and 10K run, many of which he has won or placed as a top finisher) and Senior Games. Futrell’s biggest cheerleader was his wife of 62 years Peggy, who passed away in 2009. He lives in The Villages, Florida, and still works out six days a week for at least three hours a day. “I use fitness machines, I take a spinning class, I run on the treadmill, and I swim. On my days off, I always walk. It’s been a great life of sports for me.” Some information for this article was taken from CharlieFutrell.com.