Avoid­ing tragic con­se­quences

Multisport Mecca - - News -

47-year-old Ja­panese com­peti­tor who was pulled un­con­scious from the surf dur­ing the swim leg and died later in hos­pi­tal.

Only a year ago Erica Atkins, 43, also died af­ter she suf­fered prob­lems 20m from the Palm Cove shore­line.

On the Sun­shine Coast in 2014, Vic­to­rian father Peter Far­lecas died af­ter be­ing res­cued from the water. In the same year 21-year-old Tom Lyons died af­ter com­plet­ing the Hell of the West triathlon at Goondi­windi.

At the core of most re­cent deaths both here and over­seas are heart con­di­tions. And it’s not con­fined to those un­der-pre­pared or first timers – the Ja­panese com­peti­tor who most re­cently died was an ac­com­plished ath­lete.

Iron­man’s Ge­off Meyer, who is now chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the Asian re­gion and based in Sin­ga­pore, said the sub­ject has been dis­cussed as had med­i­cal clear­ances.

In rac­ing terms and con­di­tions, ath­letes are ad­vised to un­der­take rig­or­ous train­ing cam­paigns, com­pete in shorter dis­tance events and also get med­i­cal ad­vice. But there are no checks or tests be­fore en­try.

Out of the 110 recorded deaths in Iron­man triathlon since 1985, more than 80% are males over 30. Most of the af­fected ath­letes over 30 years of age are first timers and the deaths are due to car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease rather than a ge­netic dis­or­der and fa­tal ar­ryrth­mia – as is the case with sud­den death in younger ath­letes.

Sun­shine Coast-based doc­tor Kate Gaz­zard has ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with pro­fes­sional and en­durance ath­letes, with this sub­ject one of her ar­eas of in­ter­est.

She has seen many pro­fes­sional sports un­der­take com­pul­sory car­diac screen­ing in­volv­ing a de­tailed his­tory, ex­am­i­na­tion and echocar­dio­graph ev­ery year or two years for all ath­letes and sup­port staff.

“In Italy ev­ery sin­gle child that plays sport is sub­jected to a car­diac screen­ing test at school. Screen­ing is al­ways about a cost: ben­e­fit ra­tio but in my opin­ion, it’s hard to put a cost on your own life or those you love,” Dr Kate said.

When it comes to triathlon, she said the swim por­tion is where the ath­letes get a sud­den surge of adren­a­line and the heart rate rises rapidly.

“In older ath­letes this sud­den surge in ex­er­tion, cou­pled with anx­i­ety at the start of the race is more likely to dis­lodge a plaque in the coro­nary ar­ter­ies lead­ing to a my­ocar­dial in­farc­tion, a ‘heart at­tack’. Be­ing in the water in amidst a large group of fran­tic swim­mers also means there is a greater risk of a de­lay in get­ting rapid med­i­cal help,” she said.

“For ev­ery minute with­out de­fib­ril­la­tion, the chance of sur­vival drops 10%.”

Mul­tisport events have quickly gained mo­men­tum, with the “can do” mantra push­ing new en­tries into the realm.

Any­one who has lost a lot of weight, is new to the sport and has made a dra­matic lifestyle change, or has ex­pe­ri­enced some con­cerns dur­ing train­ing should con­sult a car­di­ol­o­gist.

She said with ad­ven­ture chal­lenges the fastest-grow­ing in­dus­try in travel, and so­cial me­dia and train­ing apps such as Strava where you gain ‘ku­dos’ for im­pres­sive ef­forts mean peo­ple are push­ing them­selves fur­ther than ever be­fore for ‘recog­ni­tion’.

“I’ve never seen so many pho­tos of Garmin watch work­outs on Face­book or In­sta­gram. We are in the era of faster, higher, stronger, fur­ther,” Dr Kate said.

“Once upon a time you used to have to ‘qual­ify’ to race an Iron­man by rac­ing an event of shorter dis­tance. I be­lieve this is a good idea as it en­cour­ages pro­gres­sive over­load. You can’t just go for the glory event with­out work­ing up to it. It makes sense.”

Ge­off Meyer is a mem­ber of a start-up board called Rac­ing Hearts, all about ed­u­cat­ing ath­letes who are fit to go and get heart checks.

“This or­gan­i­sa­tion is all about ed­u­cat­ing ath­letes. We all think if we can do an Iron­man we are su­per fit and we are in­vin­ci­ble. But then you go and get an ul­tra­sound on your heart and find out you have a 60 or 70% block­age there and you are an­other ac­ci­dent wait­ing to hap­pen,” he said.

“I know a gen­tle­men re­cently who has done over 70 Iron­mans, he’s a coach and one of the fittest guys you will meet, and he was

feel­ing a bit off one day and the next thing they found he had a 70% block­age. He had stints put in and now he’s back rac­ing again.

“You can go and get a med­i­cal check-up and a nor­mal ECG (elec­tro­car­dio­gram) will say ‘that is fine’ but you need an ul­tra­sound to find block­ages.”


Back in 2014 dur­ing Iron­man 70.3 Sun­shine Coast, Peter Far­lecas died af­ter be­ing res­cued from the water.

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