Study Looks At Death Risk During Triathlons

As excited as we are to celebrate those athletes finishing a grueling triathlon event, we’re also devastated when we hear of a sudden and tragic death occurring during a race. Unfortunately, a recent study appearing in the Annals of Internal Medicine reveals that the risk of dying or suffering a fatal trauma such as cardiac arrest during a triathlon is more likely than previously thought.

The study, funded by the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, looked at more than 9 million triathlon participants over the course of the years of 1985 to 2016. Data indicated that deaths and cardiac arrests struck 1.74 out of every 100,000 competitors, a figure that’s higher than the annual risk of death for a middle-aged adult in the general population. (Reuters)

Lead study author, Dr. Kevin Harris, said, “The majority of deaths occur in the swim portion of the triathlon, which is the first portion of the race.

“During this portion of the race, the athletes likely experience an adrenaline surge as they enter the water and are competing in close proximity to other athletes, and in some cases with environmental conditions that are difficult to prepare for.”

Dr. Harris continued, “We don’t understand the exact cause of death in each athlete, and some swim deaths may be related to drowning.”

Within the group of athletes studied, the trauma victims were 47 years of age on average, with 85% of the victims being male. 90 deaths and cardiac arrests occurred during the swimming portion of races, while 7 happened during cycling, 15 occurred while running and 9 happened during the recovery period right after the race.

A key finding was that clinically silent cardiovascular disease was present in an unexpected proportion of victims, per the autopsies. This indicates that triathlon participants would be well-served to know their own individual cardiac arrest risk prior to engaging in the race.

You can read the abstract and conclusion of the study here.

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Team In Training is the problem. Too many triathletes just can’t swim and panic. I’ve watched a lady die during the 8 lap (200 yard) swim portion of the triathlon and she didn’t swim a single stroke. Pulled on the lane ropes and walked on the bottom, but her coach and team mates screamed encouragement to keep going. There has to be a required certification for the swim portion. Someone has to be responsible.

About Loretta Race

Loretta Race

Loretta grew up outside Toledo, OH, where she swam age group and high school. Graduating from Xavier University, she stayed in the Cincinnati, OH area and currently resides just outside the city in Northern KY.  Loretta got back into the sport of swimming via Masters and now competes and is …

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