Monday, May 21, 2012

What not to do during an Ironman swim...IMO

I'm sure most people in the Tri world have heard how bad the IM St. George swim was on May 5th. I was reading a blog about someone that was "frantic, swallowing water and going under." She felt as though she couldn't leave him. (No clue if she is a lifeguard.) In short, the guy begged her not to leave and continued to panic and nearly drowned both of them. She was under the water so long that she "began to get weak and darkness began to settle in."

While her efforts are noble, I wanted to comment that she shouldn't have done what she did. I didn't leave a comment as she already had a horrible experience and didn't want to make her feel worse. After having swam in very rough water for a Tri and having done many open water swims competitive or not, I'm reminded of a very stern warning we were given before one race, in a calm cove off the Potomac:

NO ONE other than lifeguards or rescue personnel should attempt to rescue another competitor even if you are a lifeguard yourself. You're more than likely fatigued, would be endangering yourself and would likely create another person needing to be rescued.

It is clear from her post that this almost happened as she was nearly killed while attempting to provide help. I realize it's difficult to just swim on by when someone is struggling for their lives and there are so many people that want out of the water but, is it worth both your lives? I know it might sound heartless but, the guy was in a wetsuit and probably struggled more with her trying to help him than before.

I feel as though if you signed up to swim 2.4 miles you better be damn sure you know what you're doing and not need a wetsuit as a crutch. You never know what conditions are going to be like. If you don't feel comfortable swimming the distance without a wetsuit maybe you need to rethink your decision to do the race. For that matter, if you don't feel comfortable in open water without a wetsuit maybe you should stick to tris with pool swims. I'm not trying to be a dick just trying to make a point about people doing things beyond their abilities. If you still think I'm being a dick, look at the new requirements for the NYC tri. Now you need to provide proof of an open water swim after all the hype from last years race.

If you think 300 people is a lot to pull out of the water, imagine having to pull out 600...or more.


  1. Wow, that's scary stuff. I agree swimming kayak to kayak or relying on a wet suit is a bad idea. I was in a tri last year where I got dunked two breathes in a row, if a 3rd one happened, I'm not sure I would have made it to four. I started getting a feeling of calm, maybe the darkness would have set in after the next dunk or two.

  2. While I would agree that folks should be prepared to swim 2.4 miles for an Ironman, I guess I would have tried to attempt a rescue. I was a Navy Search and Rescue crewman so my first inclination is to do what I have done many times... a rescue in very rough conditions. We were trained to handle folks who are in a panic. You are correct, however, that those without training could be risking their own lives trying to help another... noble or not. I believe that if you are trained to do such rescues then you have to do it. Personally, I would have nightmares if I did not try.

  3. I've sometimes wondered why there is no type of "pre-screening" for triathlon swims, both for safety reasons and (the world we live in) insurance reasons. On the one hand, I like it this way. But on the other hand, I would sort of understand if it were different.

    In cycling, there are licensing levels that are designed to not only group abilities together, but at the lower levels (Cat 4 & 5) address and improve experience and basic skill sets.