Triathlon Or Die

A recent Associated Press article reviewed a 21-month study into a series of deaths in triathlons. The article sounds a bit scary for those of us triathletes out there until you really look at the numbers. It 15 deaths in 1,000,000 triathletes. While it is higher than the marathon counterparts and nothing to be scoffed at, the fear it has generated is very misleading.

Here is the article from the Star Tribune.

A quick quote:

The risk is mostly from heart problems during the swimming part. And while that risk is low — about 15 out of a million participants — it’s not inconsequential, the study’s author says.

I was planning to add my own thoughts until I received my USAT e-mail this morning from Christopher Hess. I tried to link to the article on the USAT website to no avail so I have copied it here. Please refer to their website. Chris hit every major point in his rebuttal that I thought I would defer my thoughts. What do you think?

Outdoor Activities Could be Hazardous to Health
2009 seems to be the year of warnings: losses in the economy, personal retirement accounts, unemployment rates, property values–everywhere we look, something seems hazardous to our personal welfare.

Every step we take outside our home is about Risk–what we’ll accept within our pursuit of quality living.

Nearly 100 people die from lightening strikes and 83 die from bee stings each year in the United States.

Granted, those people might still be alive if they hadn’t watched a storm, been in a garden, or romped in a field. Then again, living in a climate controlled, four-wall illusion of security is not really all about living, either.

Triathlon Poses “Risk” Compared to Marathon
While nearly 500,000 people lose their lives to tobacco-related illnesses every year, a few extraordinary episodes in living feature people who actually try something new, healthy, and wholesome. These pursuits of living suffer a few ill effects, although not nearly on the scale of tragedy as the sendentary lives that don’t make it out outside to watch storms, walk in the garden or try something courageous like triathlon.

One recent study suggests that perhaps 15 people out of one million–over a 21 month study–might suffer the loss of life while participating in a triathlon. Hearts and empathy always go to the people and families where tragedy has occurrred.

On the other hand, for people who don’t even try to participate or live healthy lives, disease, death and financial peril looms significantly larger than the lives lost in an open-water swim.

“Over 21 million Americans use smokeless tobacco and another 45 million are smokers, leading to death rates of nearly one-half million people each year,” states Christopher Hess, health advocate and fitness enthusiast.

“I’ve literally worked with over a thousand athletes since I began coaching in 1993. Not a one of them would consider the risks of one activity to another to be anything significant compared to the risks of dying without activity, direction or purpose.”

What Matters Most
Interesting snapshots to consider:

Number of people participating in triathlons over a 21 month period of time: 922,810

Number of people discovering satisfaction, energy, sense of purpose: 921,795

Number of people losing their lives to the unexpected during triathlon study period of time: 15

Ratio of satisfied people versus number of misfortunate circumstances: 61,520:1

Number of annual deaths from sedentary / obese lifestyles: 300,000

U.S. Obesity rate: 55%

Annual U.S. Average cost of medical treatment: $7,900.00 per person

What can you do?
Let’s suppose that you’re a fitness enthusiast. Perhaps one that would recommend a particular sport and then a mainstream news source calls that sport into question. What next?

– Ask for a fair comparison. What are the rewards of one sport compared to another and compared to no sport activity at all? Sports can be measured in any number of ways–social benefit, health savings, psychological esteem–“supersize” your comparisons and don’t accept the first one you read!

– Encourage others to seek qualified help. If someone in your sport reads about something “perilous,” be ready to help them find the help they need to avoid their own peril! Need the directory of coaches?

– Research and quantify. What is the emotional and social cost to losing a life to a sporting event? What is the same cost for a life who hasn’t tried sport and died young and diseased? Find out and share what you know!

The USAT Midwest Region is always on the look-out for fresh content to publish in this newsletter. Please submit article ideas to the editor at


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