Triathlon fatalities rare, despite death at Ironman Boulder
Stephen Meyers, firstname.lastname@example.org 7:48 a.m. MDT August 9, 2016
Though Sunday's death of an Ironman Boulder competitor marks consecutive years the race has seen a fatality, deaths related to triathlon races remain extremely rare.Triathlon sees about one death per 76,000 participants, according to a USA Triathlon report on race fatalities released in 2012. The report studied the 43 fatalities in triathlon races from 2003 through 2011, including two during Northern Colorado races.
Ironman Boulder triathlete Michelle Walters, 34, of McCook, Nebraska, died Sunday after being hit by a truck while riding her bike along U.S. Highway 36 north of Boulder. Investigators say she swerved out of the designated bike lane prior to being hit.Last year, Brian Godlove, 40, of Fairfax, Virginia, died after the Boulder Ironman.
"This is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night," said Peggy Shockley, race director of the Loveland Lake to Lake Triathlon. "Thinking of all these different scenarios, all the different things that can happen or go wrong."Sunday's crash is still under investigation, and it's unknown why Walters veered from the coned-off section of highway designated for racers. Triathletes say she could have been trying to pass another rider.
Colorado State Patrol said the right side of the pickup truck hit Walters' left side, causing her to fall off her bike and be struck by the truck.The two-lane stretch of U.S. 36 north of Boulder was not closed to traffic during Sunday's race, standard protocol for the two previous Ironman races in Boulder. The shoulder of the road was blocked off with cones for cyclists.
Total road closures are rare for cycling and running events in Larimer County, save for special occasions such as the USA Pro Challenge. Races often use cones to designate a lane for running or biking. Some roads close on a rolling basis, allowing traffic through intersections directed by police.
In 2004, Dr. Joe Jabaily, 52, of Loveland, died during the Loveland Sertoma Splash and Dash Triathlon when he was struck by a car that had been waved through an intersection by a police officer.
That incident helped start new policies for how running and bike races are handled on Larimer County roads.
The new policy shifted much of the responsibility for reviewing event permit applications from the sheriff's office to the Public Works Department. Qualified engineers review traffic control measures, which must be submitted by race directors to obtain a special events permit.
"I've designed a lot of courses for people, and you can't just shut down an entire road. You don't want to interfere with the public too much," said Steve Cathcart, co-founder of the Colorado Marathon, run on Colorado 14 in the Poudre Canyon. "What I tell all of my participants is that even though traffic is controlled, you can't make the assumption the road is closed. The course is going to be open to traffic. You're going to be close to cars."
Of the 43 deaths USA Triathlon studied, five were caused by traumatic injuries sustained in cycling crashes. Thirty deaths occurred during the swim portion of the race, three during the bike leg, three during the run and two after an athlete finished the race.
In 2011, Dr. Michael Wiggins, 42, of Loveland, died during the Pelican Fest Triathlon after sustaining a cardiac episode and drowning near the end of the 800-meter swim in Windsor Lake. Wiggins had an enlarged heart and a history of abnormal heart rhythm.
Wendy Mader, race director of Pelican Fest Triathlon from 2009 to 2012, said "you can never have too many" medical personnel on kayaks and boats to supervise the swim portion of the race.
"I really don't think there's anything we could have done differently. Our emergency action plan went really smoothly. The thing about our sport, people know the risks involved. You just hope, as a race director, you've everything in your power to make it as safe as possible," Mader said.
Race deaths in Northern Colorado
Dr. Michael Wiggins, 42, of Loveland: Died during 2011 Pelican Fest Triathlon. Drowned during the half-mile swim portion of the race at Windsor Lake.
Dr. Joe Jabaily, 52, of Loveland: Died during 2004 Loveland Sertoma Splash and Dash Triathlon. Riding his bike, he was struck by a car that had been waved through an intersection by a police officer.
State patrol: Triathlete killed during Ironman Boulder swerved out of race lane
By Mitchell Byars
POSTED: 08/08/2016 08:33:23 AM MDT
UPDATED: 08/08/2016 05:45:14 PM MDT
Michelle Walters runs the 2016 Dizzy GOAT on June 18 in Nebraska. Walters was killed after she was struck while competing in the Ironman Boulder on Sunday. (Brenda Orr/ Courtesy photo)
Investigators say the Ironman Boulder competitor who was struck and killed by a vehicle during the cycling portion of Sunday's triathlon was out of the designated race lane on her bicycle before she was hit.Michelle Walters, 34, of McCook, Neb., died after being hit at the 31.9 milemarker of U.S. 36 at 9:47 a.m. Sunday just north of Boulder, according to Colorado State Patrol Trooper Nate Reid.Reid said Walters was in the coned-off race lane on westbound U.S. 36 — which at that section of the road heads north out of Boulder — ahead of a Toyota Tacoma pickup truck also headed north.
For some reason, Walters veered out of the designated race lane and into the lane designated for vehicle traffic. The right side of the pickup truck hit Walters' left side, causing her to fall off her bike and be struck by the truck.She was taken to Boulder Community Health's Foothills Hospital, where she died, according to Reid.The driver of the truck, identified as Timothy Lacey, 55, of Boulder, was not injured. Lacey stayed on scene and cooperated with investigators after the crash.Officials said alcohol and speed are not believed to be contributing factors in the crash, and no citations have been issued at this time.Reid said it is not clear why Walters veered from the designated race lane. The crash is still under investigation.
U.S. 36 north of Boulder had not been closed to vehicle traffic during Sunday's race. That stretch of the two-lane road had a shoulder blocked off with cones for cyclists and traffic realigned for the race, which Ironman Boulder race director Dave Christen said has been the case for the two previous races in Boulder.
"Those are conversations we have internally with Colorado State Patrol," Christen said. "We do put a lot of thought and process into what we think is safe and proven safe. It's something we've been planning for months on end."
Reid said while closing an entire highway would be safer, it would severely affect traffic in and out of Boulder.
"They come up with a plan, and based on that we decide how many troopers are needed to staff the event," Reid said. "Ultimately, we approve their plan. The expertise lies with the organizer. They do these types of things all over the country. Obviously, we have to balance the community's needs and the safety of the participants at the same time."
Members of Walters' family declined to comment when reached on Monday.A group called The Greater Omaha Area Trail Runners (G.O.A.T.z) posted on its Facebook page about Walters, saying she had run one of their races in June.
"G.O.A.T.z is often times referred to as a 'family,' a community of runners whose well-being and success is shared jointly regardless of your location on the map, or how many G.O.A.T.z races you've run," the post read. "Once you've joined us, you've become a part of the family. Michelle became a part of our family last June. Our thoughts and prayers are with Michelle's family during this sad and trying time."
Christen could not say if it was Walters' first Ironman.He added: "Our thoughts are with the family. We are working with state patrol to gather as much information as we can."The crash marks the fourth time a cyclist has been killed by a driver in Boulder County since late May. It is also the second year in a row an Ironman Boulder competitor has died.
Brian Godlove, a competitor from Virginia, was taken to the hospital from the race course after completing the swim and cycling portions, but not the final running leg. He died three days later at Boulder Community Health.The Boulder County coroner ruled he died from dehydration and rhabdomyolysis associated with excessive exercise.Between 2003 and 2011, there were 43 race-related deaths at various Ironman events sanctioned by USA Triathlon, the sport's national governing body.
Five of those 43 deaths were caused by traumatic injuries sustained in cycling crashes. Beyond that, 30 deaths occurred during the swim portion of the race, three during the bike leg, three during the run and two after an athlete had finished the race.