Tuesday, August 09, 2011

regarding recent fatalities

some of you may have caught the news recently about the 2 deaths at this past New York City Triathlon. it was somewhat lost among the surge of headlines regarding recent events in the world.

the deaths were Amy Martich (age 40, from Illinois) and Michael Kudryck (age 64, from New Jersey). along with 28 other swimmers, they were pulled out of the water during the swim portion of the race, both unconscious and under cardiac arrest. they were later pronounced dead. they were apparently experienced athletes and in good physical condition, and so their fatalities were a surprise to friends, family, and the race community. you can take time for condolences and learn more at the following:
their deaths should provide a moment for reflection regarding the risks in the sport. while low, they are still there. as ironic as it may seem, the pursuit of fitness does bring with it the danger of damage to personal health and even death. and deaths do happen, and a rate that seems to be higher relative to other sports like running: medical studies indicate that triathlons have had 1.5 deaths per 100,000 competitors, while marathons have had .8 deaths per 100,000 competitors.

i should caution that these are very low numbers, and show that the probability of something bad happening are minute, and that hence the decision to participate in any sport is still a laudable and beneficial endeavor.

having said this, i also want to note that the evidence found from studies is that the risk of dangers varies by athlete, and that each athlete may have individual pre-existing health factors that increase their personal risks. from the above articles, there were 14 deaths between 20062-2008. out of the 9 who were given autopsies, 7 were found to have heart conditions.

in addition, i also want to note that the relatively greater risks of fatalities in triathlon relative to running seem to be associated with swimming. 13 of the 14 deaths came from the swim portion of races.

swimming, particularly open-water swimming, is not a trivial endeavor. there is the shock of cold water, which constricts blood vessels and increase blood pressure. there is the disruption to breathing, which can induce hyperventilation or accidental choking. there is the stress of competing in mass disorganized field of competitors flailing through each other, with the danger of being hit or kicked and being left dazed or even unconscious. there is the general disorientation of a foreign environment, particularly if the water is choppy and waves are large. all of this, combined with the adrenaline of race day, can operate to escalate exertion levels and arouse panic attacks, which under certain conditions can be sufficient to overwhelm an athlete--even an experienced one. the result is fatigue, arrythmia, unconsciousness, cardiac arrest, with subsequent drowning or death...and it doesn't help that in the mass numbers of competitors on race day, it's hard to identify athletes in trouble in the water and retrieve them to shore.

people raise the question as to why there aren't comparable incidents of fatalities in long-distance swimming competitions, which are also often in open water. personally, i don't know, and i'm certainly curious as to the statistics for that. but i'd also point out that long-distance swimming is not as popular as triathlon, and so has fewer numbers of competitors, making race environments less crowded and so less disorienting. in addition, it's a somewhat esoteric sport, and so more of the competitors are elite athletes, with relatively lower risks of dangers to health.

so given all this, what lessons are there for the rest of us? i take it that we can start by evaluating ourselves for pre-existing health conditions. even if we don't know about them, that's even more reason to get checked--because it's the conditions that you don't know that are the most dangerous ones. and i take it that we can approach the sport with respect, with recognition of the dangers involved. this means knowing what the danger signs are of stress and panic, and then knowing what to do to prevent or mitigate them so they don't lead to fatigue, arrythmia, unconsciousness, cardiac arrest, or worse.

i can tell you that i always try to acclimate myself to the water temps before the race start on race day, so i don't get the shock of cold water. i also try to take some moments to calm myself down. and in the water, i always try to take a line out of the main field. and whenever i've started to feel disorientation or anxiety--and it has happened--i'll always stop and tread water until i get my bearings and composure back. does it affect my time? yeah, but it also means i stay alive--and alive to enjoy the rest of the day.

which to me is the entire point of race day. because by that time, you've already gotten all the health benefits and character development through training. the race should just be a reward and a passage point onwards to whatever comes next.

and we all want to be there to see that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What if it has nothing to do with pre-existing/congenital problems, but it has more to do with what some new research, within the past few years, is increasingly demonstrating...that it's the training itself that is the problem-the more you train, the more likely you will have problems. The study authors offer a possible explanation-not definitive- that continous training puts your body in a chronic state of inflammation, which increases the odds of having more plauqe in your arteries (as compared to SEDENTARY individuals!)- the ultimate irony!