Curator of Fitness & Fun on the Seacoast

Triathlon Tragedy: Mass. Man Passes in Vermont during Swim

Well, sadly, as a follow up to my recent blog post entitled Go Ahead… Give it a “TRI”, I feel obligated to react to and report on a recent news story reported in the New York Daily News, “Man dies swimming in Triathlon in Vermont”. Apparently on Saturday, August 18th, during the swim portion (1.5K/.93 miles) of the USA Triathlon-sponsored Olympic distance triathlon in Lake Champlain in Burlington, VT., USA Triathlon officials reported that…

A man (in his 50’s – from Beverly, MA) competing in the USA Triathlon in Vermont (has) died after being pulled from a lake during the swimming portion of the race. USA Triathlon officials say safety personnel noticed the man just after 8:00 a.m. Saturday at the three-quarter point of the swim course in Lake Champlain in Burlington, VT. Rescuers pulled him from the water and performed CPR. He was pronounced dead at a Burlington hospital.

Saturday’s event was USA Triathlon’s 2012 National Championship for Olympic-distance Triathlon. More than 2,300 athletes participated in the championship triathlon event in Vermont, which was held in Burlington for the second consecutive year. According to race officials…

“…all participants must qualify to compete in the Olympic-Distance race, which includes a 1.5-kilometer swim, 40-kilometer bike ride and 10-kilometer run.”

photo of triathlon events

As a fellow (amateur) triathlete, I am very saddened to hear of this tragedy. My heart and thoughts go out to this man’s family and friends. Apparently he had some type of “medical issue” during the swim leg in Lake Champlain and could not be revived.

So now, I feel compelled to follow up on my previous blog and my advice that you give sprint triathlons a “TRI”. Please remember to get full medical clearance from you doctor first before attempting any endurance sport, like triathlon, or beginning any new workout or fitness routine. But you don’t have to “TRI” a triathlon either. It’s not for everyone. I enjoy the sprint distance and triathlon training and the fitness challenge. It is for me.

Nevertheless, even though this triathlete from Beverly, MA was cleared and certified by USA Triathlon for the Olympic distance, unfortunately there is just a much higher level of risk involved in endurance sports like triathlon that all participants accept. You, on your own must decide if you can and will be comfortable accepting that level of risk, and what your athletic and fitness limits are. Only you (and your doctor) really know. It’s your call after all… and your doctor’s.

What I am left with as a takeaway as I reflect on this tragedy is that I remain passionate about and dedicated to the sport of Triathlon, and for me, the sprint distances are where it’s at. I mourn the loss of my fellow triathlete. But, I do also pause and consider whether there should be an age limit on an endurance (high risk) sport like Triathlon? Should men and women in their 50’s+ be competing is such athletic endeavors that tax and stress all our systems to the max? I cannot see myself competing in triathlons into my 50’s. I like a good fitness challenge, but I don’t know… The sprint distance is hard enough in my 40’s! I know this is an isolated and tragic event, but should USA Triathlon be setting age limits for the various distances? Just makes me wonder, and sad.

For now, I plan to keep sprint “TRI”-ing and will stick with the sprint distance. I hope to honor our fallen triathlete at The Pumpkinman and TREK Portsmouth Wallis Sands TRI’s this fall on the Seacoast.

Vale my friend.

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Categorised in: Events & Races, Multisport & Endurance Events, New Blog Posts

2 Responses »

  1. We had something like this happen in the Vine Man here in Sonoma recently. One of the questions the local newspaper raised was regarding the chaos in the water at the beginning of any tri. It seems the stress brought on by the initial “frenzy” and the introduction to cold water is both mental and physical for many athletes. As the popularity of these event rises, I imagine starts will become even more crowded. I wonder if better staging is the answer? I can’t bear to think it’s age related. 40 is the new 30 right? (says someone turning 40 in a couple months). 🙂

  2. Good point Brooke…. Thanks for the blog comment. Yeah, having been in the utter chaos of the start of sprint triathlons in the water, I would have to agree with you. The stress of the swim “frenzy” (guys hit, punch and grab each other all during the swim to gain an edge – crazy!) and then the introduction to cold water is crazy and more than anything mentally tough. No question. But this incident happened 3/4 of way into the swim when “usually” you relax and find a good cadence and tempo and the “frenzy”/stress typically has abated.

    I am not being an ageist, but for Olympic tris, it’s a mile swim in cold water and at the USAT event in Vermont (where this tragedy took place), Lake Champlain is pretty chilly. How much can the body take physiologically-speaking and honestly, are 50+ athletes at their best physically (or mentally) to handle those bio stresses (as well as they could 10/20 years prior)? I really wonder out loud about this…. I’d like to see a study. Hmmm.

    From my experiences, I do the sprint tris (a total amateur), and consider myself in good shape and trained well, and I am 100% pushed to my bio/body limits on sprint tris… I cannot imagine adding 10 more years and then swimming a mile for an Olympic tri. I think endurance athletes are not always good are knowing their limits… not that it was the case in VT, but in general.

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