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Popular St. Anthony's Triathlon approaches

By JON WILSON
Published April 23, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - Charles Futrell, 85, swims up to 3,000 yards, about 1.7 miles, four days a week.

Often he will exit the pool and go on a brisk 20-mile bike ride. He might even finish with a session on a gymnasium exercise machine.

"I'm in training all the time,'' Futrell said. "Between two and three hours daily.''

Futrell is a longtime senior sportsman in Pinellas County who lives at the Villages. He is one of four octogenarians who signed up for next weekend's St. Anthony's Triathlon events. (One had to withdraw.)

The triathlon is billed as one of the nation's top multisports events and is considered the season-opener for the hearty athletes who compete in swimming, running and cycling legs.

As always, world-class professional athletes will compete in Sunday's main event. Among those expected is Hunter Kemper of Longwood, the world's top-ranked male triathlete. Kemper, 29, got his start as a 10-year-old in St. Anthony's Meek and Mighty event for children and novice adults, race organizers said.

But the St. Anthony's Triathlon has always had an all-are-welcome approach. Along with the pros, top age-group athletes line up with neighborhood tri-sport devotees who may not be as fast but are just as passionate.

Every year, the lineup includes dozens of male and female entrants in their 60s, 70s and 80s.

"People are living longer and doing more extraordinary things,'' Futrell said.

There is even a national, slickly produced magazine aimed at older athletes. It is called GeezerJock and it covers older athletes who surf, play baseball, basketball and football, or participate in other strenuously competitive sports.

Futrell, a retired teacher, recently became part of the Wisdom of the Ages exhibit at the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science in Tallahassee. The exhibit features 27 Floridians 80 and older selected for their spirited approach to life and their determination to remain active.

Futrell has competed in six Ironman Triathlon championships in Hawaii, which begin with a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile cycling leg and a 26.2-mile run - the distance of a marathon.

Futrell said he has finished four of the rugged races - one unofficially because he exceeded the 17-hour limit.

The other three octogenarians who signed up are Warren Voegeli, 81, of St. Petersburg; John Taylor, 84, a retired journalist who lives in Atlanta; and Bill Schweitzer, 83, from upstate New York.

Voegeli had to withdraw, curtailing his training when his wife became ill.

"My bride comes first. I take care of her,'' said Voegeli, a retired Dixie Hollins High School teacher. "I'll be there next year.''

Never much of a scholastic athlete, Voegeli said he became interested in triathlons because he flies and wants to stay healthy.

"I just believe in taking care of (myself). My main thing, I've flown all my life and been an instructor down there (at Albert Whitted Airport). I don't want to lose my license, and the way you lose it, you don't pass the physical,'' he said.

St. Anthony's organizers say this year is the second that four athletes 80 or above signed up. The organizers have added a competitive category to assure that the octogenarians will compete against others of similar age.

As usual, Sunday's event begins with a swim in Tampa Bay, with waves charging into the water at Spa Beach starting at 7 a.m. Spectators can get a good view of the swim from the Pier.

[Last modified April 23, 2006, 10:51:55]


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