Mid-Life Awakening Stirs Competitive Spirit & Call of Duty for 65-year-old Triathlete

Liz Merritt
April 28, 2017
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Dr. Charles Bode is a man on a mission. This 65-year-old triathlete and prominent surgeon has set his sights on an athletic goal that many men half his age would consider unimaginable. Dr. Bode is attempting to qualify for the 2018 Hawaii Ironman World Championships.

“I don’t put many restrictions by myself,” he says of his decision. “Life is an adventure, and it’s going to be over at some point, so why not?”

Perfect Timing

With his patient and surgery schedule at two days a week, he figures now is the perfect time to chase what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete for a world championship in the sport he loves.

65-year-old triathlete

Charles Bode competes in the Ironman 70.3 in Oceanside, CA.

Dr. Bode is no stranger to triathlons. His taste for the sport started after age 50, as he began a progression from his first sprint triathlon to his first of seven Half Ironman triathlons in the span of a year.

He completed his first full Ironman – the inaugural Ironman Arizona – two years later in 2005. For those unfamiliar, an Ironman triathlon requires athletes swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run a full marathon, or 26.2 miles.

He took a few years away from competition, and now says he’s ready for another Ironman qualifier for the championships. His target: Ironman Arizona in November.

65-year-old Triathlete Says it’s Never Too Late

Dr. Bode’s passion for living life to the fullest is not swayed or deterred by age. He’s a firm believer that it’s never too late to start a new endeavor.

He shares a book title that is a source of inspiration. Written in 2003 by Dr. Ed Wolfgram, It’s Never Too Late chronicles the psychiatrist’s journey to winning the Hawaii Ironman World Championships in his age group at 70.

Wolfgram writes, “Today, every system, every cell cries out for movement. Nothing – not money or success – is more important to you and your family than health.”

Dr. Bode agrees. “I believe I can do this,” he says. As people grow older, they sometimes believe age is a barrier to activity, rather than a reason to keep moving. Dr. Bode decidedly disagrees.

When asked why he is setting such a huge goal at time in life when many are easing off the gas pedal, Dr. Bode replies matter-of-factly, “There’s too many things to do and see in life, and I want to enjoy them all.”

Midlife Awakening

65-year-old triathlete

Bode’s training currently focuses on building base miles on the bike.

Dr. Bode was lured to the sport of triathlon 15 years ago – the year he turned 50. Flipping through photographs from a family vacation in Hawaii, he saw a photo of a heavyset man in a bathing suit on the beach. Turning to his wife, Dawne, he asked, “Who is this?”

“She said it was me,” Dr. Bode laughs. “And that body was not who I thought I was. The next day, I went out and bought a bike.” He began cycling and strength training to get his body back into shape. And by the end of that year, he was entering the water at his first sprint triathlon.

Today, he is on the year-long training journey required of Ironman athletes. “I’m 65, and I want to see if I can do this again,” he says, adding this one will be his Ironman finale. “To get to Hawaii is the pinnacle.”

His training currently focuses on building base miles on the bike, averaging about 150 miles each week, and working on his swimming technique. He’s not running much early in the process, as that’s where athletes usually get injured.

Call of Duty

But triathlon training isn’t the only endeavor keeping Dr. Bode busy these days.

He is an accomplished oral and maxillofacial surgeon and longtime member of the craniofacial surgical team at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. And after 25 years in private practice, he will soon join the Barrow parent company, Dignity Health.

Dr. Bode’s notoriety as a highly specialized surgeon also landed him on the radar of the U.S. Navy. He tells the story of receiving a letter from the Navy asking if he was interested in joining the Naval Reserves. The Navy was looking for skilled surgeons in high-demand specialties. Dr. Bode fit the bill perfectly.

“I picked up the phone and called a recruiter, and I told him, “Do you know how old I am?” he says. He knew exactly how old he was and explained that Dr. Bode would have to be commissioned into the Naval Reserves before he turned 65.

65-year-old triathlete

Bode and family at his U.S. Naval Reserves commissioning. Pictured: (L-R) son-in-law Commander Chad Temple; his daughter, Lt. Commander Natasha Bode; Lt. Commander Charles Bode; his son, Lt. Commander Travis Bode; and Navy recruiter, Lt. Commander James Hinkle.

Lt. Commander Bode

In January, he officially became a U.S. Navy Reserve Lieutenant Commander and will attend Officer Candidate School in Rhode Island before serving active duty.

Dr. Bode’s three-year commitment to the military will have him doing everything from taking out wisdom teeth to reconstructive head and neck surgery on Marines and sailors wounded in combat.

Entering the military at retirement age may seem unconventional to some people, but for Dr. Bode, it’s just one more adventure to live. “I can do something that’s important, do good work and give back to my country.”

He’ll now follow in his children’s footsteps. His daughter, Natasha and son, Travis are both active-duty Navy Lieutenant Commanders. Natasha is an attorney (JAG) and Travis a 2002 graduate of the United States Naval Academy and is a line officer.

Power of a Determined Mind

When it comes to aging and the journey on which we embark after 50, Dr. Bode is a true believer in leaving the past in the past and always seeking new experiences. With that mindset, we focus on activities and achievements. And we can develop a belief that we can do anything at any age.

He appreciates that he is surrounded with athletes who are generally younger than him. “Younger people look at life differently; they see things with a different eye. I appreciate that. For me, it’s very rewarding to be able to do things that a lot of people my age either can’t or won’t do.”

Dr. Bode truly believes anyone at any age can be physically active if they put their minds to it. “Discipline is the biggest thing. Set some goals to accomplish something you’ve always wanted to do. It’s never too late.”

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