Despite usually being the only one competing in his age group, 84-year-old World War II veteran Charley French says he still gets nervous before he takes the starting line in a triathlon.
The guy in black who just blew past on his bike? That’s Charley French.
French once set a record at the Ironman triathlon in Hawaii and is a five-time world champ in a sport he took up 25 years ago — just as he was helping American cyclist Greg Lemond win the Tour de France. French made the aerodynamic handlebars Lemond rode to victory in Paris in 1989.
But even at that, French is no ordinary athlete and he’s had no ordinary life.
At 18, he was a machinist aboard the U.S. Navy ship that took Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur to the Battle of Borneo in 1945. In the 1960s, French appeared in ski films made in the Austrian Alps.
Just turned 84, he’s been training for what will be easily his 200th triathlon.
When he donned his wetsuit and slipped into the Payette River in southwestern Idaho Saturday, it was a testimonial to human longevity and fitness. French doesn’t consider it any special personal triumph, however.
“It’s luck,” he said. “I was fortunate to have a body where nothing goes wrong.”