Charles Futcher stood at the Kapalua shoreline on the northwestern tip of Maui, surveying the elements. He watched the current, observed the pace of the clouds as they moved past the sun, and focused each observation toward one goal: be the first guy to the buoy, floating out there on the salty water. Based on his mental calculations he needed to start this leg of the XTERRA World Championship triathlon slightly off to the right of the field of competitors. He was going to be the lone shark in the water, but he was going to get to the buoy first then cut back through the water toward the shoreline like a knife through warm butter. That was his plan. But as most seasoned lifers know, plans are great ideas and seldom do they go smoothly.
Here’s what happened to Charles…
He cut open his big toe on a coral reef and blood tainted the blue water. He realized there was a reason he was the only athlete starting to swim far off to the right, where reefs replaced the sandy floor. “I was chumming going out there. There are sharks out there that eat people,” Charles said while recounting the event like it happened yesterday.
He was the lone shark that quite possibly was going to be eaten by a hungry shark. But did he quit and turn back? Nope. Charles doesn’t quit, which is one of the reasons he’s been a series champion four out of five years and he is the 2nd nationally ranked triathlete in America.
Three things make Charles an athletic champion: grit, coaching, and fitness
Charles has grit.
Charles is the type of 61-year-old who views life as a challenge to overcome. It’s the type of challenge that deserves to be acknowledged, then proven, and his resolve is a driver for how he lives each season. He has a training season, a competing season, and an active resting season. In each season, Charles is fully invested while maintaining a passion for the process. His goal is bent toward overcoming the challenge to improve his process. If that gets him into the top three, well then excellent.
“I’m not going to waste my opportunity. I have one shot at life,” said Charles while telling story after story of his races, wins and losses, injuries and comebacks.
Here’s a quick overview of Charles Futcher’s athletic profile, proving he has grit:
Racing heart rate: 160-165 sustained over 2-3 hours of swimming, biking, and running.
In 2016 he entered his first triathlon, at the age of 58ish and finished 6th in his age group for the XTERRA series.
In 2017 Charles became the East Coast Regional Champion in the XTERRA series and qualified for World Championships in Hawaii. (We’ll finish that bloody story later.)
He has competed with a bone deep cut on his elbow. He’s been knocked unconscious by a swimmer, saved by a lifeguard, then finished that triathlon 6th in his age group. He endured heat stroke at his second World Championship triathlon in Hawaii. He ran across the finish line on a broken foot. He broke his wheel out on a course then walked 10 miles back to his transition station.
Through all the races, blood, crashes, and a near-drowning Charles has never willingly quit.
Charles’ values the right Coach.
Charles met Jeremiah Williams, Coach and Owner of OPEX Fitness Lancaster, long before he became a triathlete and years before Jeremiah became a coach. Charles and Jeremiah met because of mountain biking. Jeremiah used to race, Charles was racing and he happened to favor the bike shop where Jeremiah was working at the time. As Charles got to know Jeremiah, he became impressed by Jeremiah’s lifestyle and his authenticity as a person. As the years went by, Jeremiah moved into coaching within the fitness realm, Charles continued competing and they remained friends. When Charles realized he wanted to improve his physical performance as a triathlete, Jeremiah was the first person he reached out to for fitness, nutrition, and lifestyle coaching.
In Charles’ first season of competing as a triathlete, Jeremiah coached him with bike, run, core two-a-days. He worked on his core strength in the morning then road for 25 miles later in the day. “Obviously your first year you’re not going to be spectacular, but we kept at it,” said Charles as he looks back on his training. In his first season of races, he had issues with cramping. Charles cramped so badly during one race that it took him three weeks for his muscles to recover.
“Nutrition is really important for Charles,” said Jeremiah. He coaches Charles into maintaining optimal levels of protein for his age, body, and training. Jeremiah said, “When it comes to training, we balance his stress load form his job, conditioning training, and actual strength training.”
Since triathlon season is March through October, Charles trains differently throughout the year. Jeremiah programs his workouts to benefit either resting season, training season, or competing season. “In the off season we intentionally have him in the gym more, and getting as many hard contractions as possible, while still being relevant to his craft. During his race season we use progressive overload of training critical areas of his fitness to bring out his best on competition day,” said Jeremiah. In the off-season he coaches Charles to focus more on his Basic Lifestyle Guidelines of sleep, daily movement, nutrition and organizing his daily life. This way he is ready to move more effectively after a purposeful season for active resting.
Charles is into fitness.
Charles began mountain bike racing around 1989. For about 20 years he rode on single track trails. Then during one race he broke his elbow, and was forced to put mountain biking on hold, and began walking. Charles and his dog, Pirate, walked the Enola Low Grade trail so much they got bored. Boredom inspired him to jog a mile, he just tucked it into his walk one day. Eventually his elbow healed, and in that time of healing and slow-down, he evolved into a runner.
Someone at work tossed out the idea of doing an XTERRA triathlon, but Charles thought about the swim. He wasn’t a swimmer. He knew how to swim, since he spent his younger days in sailing competitions, but he didn’t consider himself a competitive swimmer. He bought a pool membership, then stood on the deck and watched people swim laps. He chose to take on the challenge of growing into a competitive swimmer. And that’s how Charles became a triathlete when he was 58.
Chumming it back in Hawaii.
Back to Hawaii, where Charles was competing in the World Championships while trailing blood behind his freestyle kick, he approached the shoreline. Dead last, but alive. Charles ran toward the transition station for the second leg of the triathlon. While he’s gearing up for his ride, Charles overhears the banter from his competition, “Did you see all that blood in the water”?
Charles takes a minute to look at his toe and can tell the cut is down to the bone but moves forward anyway. He puts on his socks and clipless shoes, then begins to ride. By the time he gets back from his bike ride, his sock is soaked in blood. He dismounts his bike, changes to running shoes, and decides to leave his socks behind. The only pep talk going through his head was, “Just keep going,” said Charles. He finished 30th over-all, and he needed stitches on his toe and had grown thumb sized blisters on the arches of his bare feet.
Charles has the grit, the fitness, and the coaching to support his pure enjoyment for the process of living better. He said, just before a trail run with his dog, Pirate, “You don’t need to compete. You don’t need to put a number on to go race. Don’t miss a chance to be healthy.”