>The Dangers of Tri


You may not think of it this way, but triathlon is an inherently dangerous sport.  Bike crashes, broken bones, dehydration, hyponatremia, blisters, heat stroke, road rash.  The list could go on and on.  Far too often we hear of athletes who are injured, sometimes seriously, or die in races.  More often than not, those athletes who die suffered some heart-related condition, and died during or following the swim.

A study completed in 2009 indicated that triathlon had double the risk of sudden death as do marathons.  The rate of death in marathons according to the study was about 4 to a million.  The death rate in triathlon was about 15 per million.  Now, those odds may seem extremely low.  In fact, I think the odds of winning the lottery or getting struck by lightning are greater.  The fact of the matter remains, however, that there are risks in our sport.

This risk was highlighted just a week ago, when on June 26th, 40-year old age grouper Rudy Valentino drown during the Philadelphia Triathlon.

Races typically do a good job of having lifeguards and observers on kayaks during the swim.  The troubling part is that not everyone is trained to recognize drowning.  We all think that a drowning victim looks like the poor, hapless victim on b-rated horror films or tv shows.

An article recently published on a Coast Guard website paints a disturbing picture of drowning:

From the article:

The Instinctive Drowning Response – so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D.,  is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water.  And it does not look like most people expect.  There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind.  To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic from the surface drowning can be, consider this:  It is the number two cause of accidental death in children, age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents) – of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult.  In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening (source: CDC).  Drowning does not look like drowning – Dr. Pia, in an article in the Coast Guard’s On Scene Magazine, described the instinctive drowning response like this:

  1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. Th e respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.
  2. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
  3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water, permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
  4. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
  5. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.

Read the full article here.

The morale of this post?  In my opinion, there should be an effort spearheaded by USAT, race organizations such as WTC or Rev3, and RD’s everywhere, to make certain that all swim course volunteers are adequately trained to recognize the real signs of drowning.  Having adequate training and controls in place will aid in significantly reducing the risk of death during triathlon.

The other morale of this post?  Be careful out there.  Know your abilities, especially in the water.  Keep your eyes open for others.

Stay safe.  Have a good holiday weekend.  God bless America!  Thanks for reading.