On Deaths in the New York City Triathlon, and Pushing Ourselves to Limits

Yesterday some 3900 people swam, biked and ran in New York City’s 11th annual triathlon in what might be a celebratory event of human strength and perseverance.

According to this morning’s paper, a 40-year-old woman suffered a heart attack during the 1500 meter swim in the Hudson. She was hospitalized and said to be in stable condition. A man, aged 64, became unconscious mid-way through the swim and was pronounced dead. The man’s death was the second in the history of NYC’s triathlon; three years ago someone else didn’t make it through the water segment.

In March, 2009, the LA Times ran a piece on Death by Triathlon. Most who died in triathlons were men between the ages of 35 and 55 years. Most of the deaths occurred during the swimming portion of the race.

Triathlon (Wikimedia Commons image)

At the pool where I swim, I see people training for the triathlon, and I admire them.

Still, you have to wonder, do people not know their own limits? Or do they choose to ignore them?


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  • Interesting post here, Dr. S. In answer to your question: “Do people not know their own limits?” – the answer is: “Depends on whether you’re talking about triathletes or not…”

    I’ve never done a tri, but I was a distance runner for 19 years (before my own heart attack). Anybody who pins a number onto their chest on race day knows about the completely crazy-nutso obsession of some people (that’s the official medical terminology used to describe elite triathletes).

    I like electrophysiologist Dr. John Mandrola’s take on this. He’s a cyclist himself who writes regularly about the athlete’s heart. For example:

    “There is little doubt that the extremes of intense training enhances both genetically pre-determined (Long QT, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) and acquired (coronary artery disease) risks of death.” More on this at: http://www.drjohnm.org/the-mysterious-athletic-heart/


  • Hi Carolyn, I didn’t know you were a long-distance runner. Wow! I follow Dr. John’s blog. About knowing our limits and respecting those – that’s a book-worthy topic! Best, Elaine

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