There’s no way to start this blog post with a clever quote or some pseudo-profound insight. At the Dewey Beach sprint triathlon this past Saturday, a man had a heart attack in the water. My family was waiting at the swim exit area to see me come out, and while waiting, they saw him being pulled from the water. CPR was administered for a long time by other racers, then a spectator who was an EMT, and eventually paramedics. He was taken to the hospital and put on life support. He was taken off of life support on Sunday. He was well trained for the event, and did not drown.
This year alone there have been several reported deaths during open water swim legs of triathlons. None have been a case of drowning. Most are being attributed to previously undiagnosed conditions like arrhythmia.
The man who died was named Steve Linthicum. He was 46. I would like to ask all readers of this blog, few as you are, to keep this family in your prayers if you are a praying person.
As for as my kids will know, he went to the hospital and he is fine now. Why would I lie like that? Well, they have known death. I do not shield them from it. They have attended funerals, including that of their grandfather. But in this case, they were witnesses to a tragedy, and they stood on the beach worried, wondering if Daddy would be OK. Many people quit the swim early, turning back before the first buoy. It was rough, with high swells. In Atlantic City NJ on the same day, a swim was canceled due to conditions. That’s not terribly far from Dewey. It was a scary scene to onlookers. So as long as they believe in the tooth fairy and santa, they can believe nothing bad happened that day. To separate the randomness of a heart attack from the scene of rough water, is a leap that many adults have trouble making, so I don’t expect my kids to be able to handle it yet.
Is triathlon dangerous? No more so than most participation sports. People die while running all the time. Bicyclists are killed routinely by drivers. Yet, those of us who pursue this as a lifestyle know that it beats the odds of a couch potato lifestyle. When another person dies early from sitting on the couch and eating junk food, it doesn’t have the immediate drama. And while we should, we don’t tend to panic and demand to know whether couch sitting is safe. I did not know Steve, so I cannot speak for him. I would venture to guess that he had no regrets, and pursued endurance sports for his health. When I hear people say things like “he died doing what he loved” it usually rings hollow for me, when that thing was high risk, like sky diving. But this was not that kind of situation.
In perhaps the most stark example of life going on around us, the race continued. I exited the water and saw there was a medical situation, but walked up the sand to transition to continue my race. Hundreds of others did as well. After the race we celebrated, drank free beers and ate the food. Awards were given. We made friends, met online acquaintances, and planned for our next races. Callous? Perhaps. Yet every day we live on in the face of tragic death of people whose names we will never know.And at that point, all we knew was that someone went away in an ambulance.
As for my own race, it was marked improvement. I was almost last in my AG for the swim, but I intentionally took my time. My last swim in the ocean didn’t have this level of surf or swell, and was half as long. With people bailing out early, I just wanted to survive and not drink the ocean. I did that. I made my time goal. I wasn’t crushed when I got on my bike. This is all progress. I passed a few people on the bike, and placed ahead of 97 people on that leg. They all flew past me on the run, where I still have a mental block and cannot move faster.
I’m looking to my next step up, the Olympic in November. Based on my strengths and weaknesses, I know what to focus on in my training over the next two months. I have renewed confidence in the water and resolved my issues with my wetsuit. I’m ready to go much longer on the bike, and it’s time to grind out the running miles. Disney HM is under four months away.
This evening, I will give a pint of blood to the American Red Cross, something I haven’t done in over a year. I will remember fallen fellow athlete Steve Linthicum when I do, and hope that my blood can help a person in need.
(A more upbeat race report with two pictures can be found here. )