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by Cheryl Gettelfinger

January 15, 2016

From the time he could walk, Charles Lee jumped into the lake at his family’s summer retreat near Terre Haute, Ind. The property, dubbed “Lock Lee,” sat on two lakes, one of which was a half-mile long. The water proved inviting to Charles, and his mom had to keep pulling him out. His parents decided to see what he’d do at the tender age of 2, if unaided. To their surprise, Charles swam breaststroke, with open eyes, back to the steps.

He began competing at the Terre Haute Country Club and Terre Haute YMCA around 1952. He and his friends found an indoor pool at the Y so that they could swim in the winter. In addition, he spent some time as he still does today in Culver, Ind., at Lake Maxinkuckee. He had various instructors over the years, but no real coach until 1960 in high school in St. Louis, Mo.

Charles set a Missouri high school record in the 100-yard breaststroke during prelims his sophomore year,1960, that stood until the following year. Ironically, Charles’s nemesis touched him out at finals and won all three years including the year Charles set the record.

After 26 years off, Charles returned at the age of 44 when the mother of one of the kids from his kid’s age group swim team encouraged him to come swim. He practiced for three weeks before the state meet at the IUPUI Natatorium, entered three freestyle and three breaststroke events and did well. He was hooked for life. Charles has amassed 48 individual USMS Top 10s in breaststroke events, plus three freestyle and two IM events, not to mention two relay Top 10s.

His favorite stroke, breaststroke, changed in 1957. You could no longer swim the race entirely under water, only coming up for air at the turns. But Charles’s 59 individual Top 10s and two relay Top 10s prove that he’s adapted to all swimming changes.

His most memorable pool swim was at the 1996 YMCA Nationals in Orlando, when his second-place finish in the 200 breast (by four one-hundredths of a second) was followed (also by four one-hundredths of a second) by the third-place finish. In that same facility, 18 years later in the short course meters Rowdy Gaines Classic, Charles broke four meet records and met its namesake, Olympian Rowdy Gaines.

Charles’s two biggest open water achievements are his first-place finish in the 70-74 year age group at the 2014 Big Shoulders, in 63-degree water, and the first-place finish and 65-69 year age group All American status from the National 5K open water championship.

Charles has transferred to the Florida LMSC where he’s continuing to flourish while enjoying his lifelong love of swimming.


  • Human Interest


  • Breaststroke
  • Records
  • Biography