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Tri Challenge: Rule No. 1 is safety first
Scott Zahn and his relay partner, trainer Junius Ho, after racing the Green Bay Triathlon.
July 15th, 2011
07:15 AM ET

Tri Challenge: Rule No. 1 is safety first

Since January, six iReporters have been training in the Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge. We’re following along as they prepare to compete alongside Dr. Sanjay Gupta in the August 7 Nautica NYC Triathlon.

For my next blog, I was planning on writing about the costs of being a triathlete. I had planned to write about how much it costs to be fit. New clothes (my waist size is down from a 40 to less than a 36), equipment, workout clothes, fresh fruits and veggies all contribute to that total cost.

But several recent events have made me think about another cost - injury and death.

This past Sunday two events occurred that have brought this home. One of my trainers, Junius, who is training for Ironman Wisconsin, suffered a terrible bike accident. She was on mile 55 of a 75 mile ride and was crossing over a steel grate bridge. It had rained a little, which made the bridge slippery, and she lost control of the bike and went down.

She suffered a concussion, 27 stitches to her head and a broken left wrist. It could have been worse and with luck she will still be able to compete in September at Ironman Wisconsin, a race she has been training for all year.

The second event occurred at the Challenge Roth Triathlon in Germany. During the swim portion of the triathlon one of the relay participants died. I don’t know any of the details, but what a sad and tragic thing to have happened.

These two events made me think about news stories and tweets that I have seen over the past few months involving other cycling deaths of elite athletes or athletes in training. I am surprised how often these occur. Since they usually involve a single person there is not a lot of news about it, but the numbers seem to be piling up.

All of this has made me think more about being safe during training and not trying to do things beyond what I am able to do. I have made incredible strides in my fitness and endurance, but I still struggle as the workouts increase.

Although this is becoming easier I will never say that it is easy. This is hard work and often times tests the limits of our minds and bodies. In addition, we are usually cycling on roads with vehicles moving much faster than us without a lot of room between them and the ditch.

Let’s all remember what the police officer told everyone after morning report on "Hill Street Blues" - “Hey, Let’s be careful out there.”


soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Noah Taylor

    I really liked your write-up on Tri Challenge: Rule No. 1 is safety first. Our company recently launched an awesome product that I'm sure you will really be excited about, it's called FinishSafe, FinishTags and it's completely FREE! FinishTags are a set of 7 emergency ID tags that will allow medics instant access to whatever information you deem important for medics to know in case of an emergency. There are 2 shoe tags, bike tag, wallet ID card, keychain tag and 2 bag tags. Check us out at http://www.FinishSafe.com They way we store and display a person's data is unique. We never reveal they first name, no full DOB, we never collect SSN, and we also never display their home address, email and/or phone number. So your privacy and identiy are also protected with FinishSafe. I look forward to your feedback and happy training!

    July 15, 2011 at 10:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Greg

    As a relatively "fit" individual, I decided to participate in a local triathlon. Nothing could've prepared me for the swim portion of the race. After being swam-over, dunked, punched, kicked... I decided Triathlons are not for me.

    I have no idea how you can make them safer, but I'll never dive into a lake with 200 other people again. 🙂

    July 15, 2011 at 10:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mark

      I have participated in dozens of tri's over the last 20+ years. Some with thousands of participants. The open water swim is challenging. I have experienced an occasional push, kick and elbow, but swimming in a crowd will produce that. To avoid much of the abuse, move to the outside before the start...either wide right or left. After the first 200m, the crowd spreads out and you can find a place to swim comfortably. Also, if you are not prepared to go out in a real full on sprint for the first 200m, don't start at the front. Hang in the back and then move your way up. At the turns, be aware of surrounding swimmers and sometime give a wide berth. You might lose a few seconds but you will avoid contact.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:47 | Report abuse |
  3. Larry

    And to Greg, try and tri again but stay away from the other 199 people.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Lance

    I am a strong triathlete (swimmer and biker) but have suffered from Achilles-related injuries to both legs for the past two years. My running part of a triathlon is more of a walk. I have visited myriad doctors (no rupture) and tried ice, rest, various exercises (etc.). Currently, my right leg is fine, but my left Achilles is so bad that I have been limping for almost six weeks; so, not only have I ceased "running", I have also given up biking until I fully heal.... I only do an occasional swim. Although I am willing to be patient and rest, I can't help but feel that I will never run again. In fact, I just hope I can walk normally again. How did this guy with a resting pulse rate of "high 30s" end up using a cane? ((depressed in Maryland))

    July 15, 2011 at 12:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Matt

      Lance, besides the obvious advice of seeing a doctor, you may want to check out your bike fit. I had some Achilles and ankle issues for about a year before I took a look at the cleat position on my cycling shoes. Having your cleats too far forward puts a lot of strain on your Achilles tendons. I don't know if this will solve your problem, but it could be something to check out...

      July 15, 2011 at 12:42 | Report abuse |
  5. Stef

    So true Dr. Scott. I'm constantly scared out on my bike because of the lack of protection I have from motorists that hate the 20 second hold up needed to wait for another car to pass me. Sometimes I wish everyone had the chance to train to learn the need for safety and consideration.
    Great article and good points: this is expensive, it has risks, but overall, it's worth the costs!

    July 15, 2011 at 12:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. AlwaysTri

    As a triathlete and an EMT, I highly suggest RoadID's for athletes. Even the simple version still gives us the information we need to contact your family for health info, and allows us to see whether you have allergies (also helpful is "NKDA" or "no known drug allergies"). Safety should definitely come first, especially in the summer months when we're all out running super early (typically in the dark) to beat the heat.

    July 15, 2011 at 13:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. TriChick

    So true! I wiped out on my bike in a race last weekend, just 150 or so yards from the dismount. I was lucky that I was just bruised and road rashed and could finish the race on adrenaline, but it could easily have meant a concussion or broken bones. I love this sport, though, so I'm not letting it discourage me!

    Oh, and I ALWAYS wear my Road ID, even if it costs me a few extra seconds in transition.

    July 15, 2011 at 13:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Jon

    "Rule No.1 is safety first" – this headline brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department.

    July 15, 2011 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. john

    Yes, triathlon is dangerous, especially biking. My wife and I are training for Ironman Wisconsin in September. My wife crashed on her bike at 30 miles per hour last Saturday. We called an ambulance and spent eight hours in the emergency room. Fortunately nothing broken but she has now suffered her second serious concussion in less than a year due to bike crashes. We are not spring chickens with both of us at 50 years old trying our first Ironman. Hoping she recovers from the injuries quickly enough to be at the start line in September.

    July 15, 2011 at 15:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • szahn34

      John- I think that is awesome that you are doing in Ironman at age 50. I'm 46 and not sure I could do that now or ever. Good Luck and be safe!!!

      July 15, 2011 at 21:19 | Report abuse |
  10. Steve

    I think that triathlons, marathons, ultra-marathons, centurys, etc are exercises in masochism. Don’t get me wrong… I’ve done my share. I just think that at some point you have to ask yourself “Why am I doing this”, when it’s so easy, less time consuming, safer, and much less expensive to stay in great shape with moderate regular exercise.

    July 15, 2011 at 15:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Charlie

    Dr. Scott..

    First off, congrats. Two years ago I had a vertical sleeve gastrectomy. weight loss procedure I lost 140 pounds. As I lost weight and began to exercise, the idea of doing triathlons came to mind. I've now done 6 sprint tri's and will do my first "oly" the end of this summer. You are doing a great job of motivating people to get moving. Thanks.

    July 23, 2011 at 14:55 | Report abuse | Reply
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    October 4, 2016 at 10:30 | Report abuse | Reply

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