USA Triathlon In Cleveland: Lake Erie Swim A Concern, 33 Quit The Race

Swimmers line up facing Lake Erie
Triathletes prepare for the swim Saturday [Stephanie Jarvis/ideastream]
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Following last weekend’s USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships, triathletes who took part raised questions on social media about safety during the swim in Lake Erie.

7:30 A.M. #597

Hector Garcia of Ellicott City, Maryland, entered Lake Erie for the first leg of the triathlon.“I did not have the best experience, especially during the swim,” recounted the 60-year old Garcia.

Garcia said he was disoriented after the swim. With a shoulder injury prior to the race, he was not prepared to swim more than the 1500 meters typical of an Olympic-distance triathlon. He said his watch tracked 1900 meters.

Aside from the length of the course, Garcia said there weren’t enough buoys to help guide swimmers through the choppy waters. And, he added, if swimmers needed to rest on a kayak or a boat, there were very few options.

“If I would’ve had an issue and I would’ve raised my hand,” said Garcia, “I will tell you that I don’t know if anyone would’ve noticed – and it’s a little uncomfortable.”

USA Triathlon said there was an “appropriate number” of boats, kayaks, and paddleboards out on Saturday, but did not provide exact numbers. The Coast Guard had two boats out on the lake, but one was assigned to prevent vessels from entering the swim area.

Garcia finished the swim and the race, but said the USA Triathlon in Cleveland did not meet his expectations.

He was one of several athletes who mentioned on Facebook feeling unsafe during the swim.

9:21 A.M. #2934

Rachelle Brown of Columbus, Ohio, started her Lake Erie swim. By then, Brown said, the wind had picked up, and the waves were stronger.

“Because of how large the waves were, I was still in the pack, but I could only see the person directly in front of me,” said Brown.

She ended up quitting the race.

“I felt like I couldn’t fight the waves.”

According to results from USA Triathlon, 33 people failed to complete the swim out of 2983 participants. In 2016’s race in Omaha, Nebraska, four people out of 2088 did not finish the swim.

Brown says she considers herself a strong swimmer, and she’s been competing in triathlons for four years. She heard from teammates and other competitors that the swim caused more difficulties than the rest of the race, which included a 10k run and a 40k bike ride.

“The run was a little bit hilly, and the bike was a little windy. That’s stuff we’re all used to,” said Brown. “But the swim – everybody had issues with the swim. That it was long, and especially that it was incredibly dangerous.”

But not everyone agrees.

9:35 A.M. #3472

Fairview Park’s Mark Durno ran into Lake Erie about 15 minutes after Brown.

“My first thought about the race was that it was not a dangerous swim, but it was a challenging swim,” said Durno.

As a local, Durno said he swims in Lake Erie all the time. But he can understand how others might be less comfortable in Lake Erie’s turbulent conditions. He agreed that the swim was longer than usual, and he agreed there should have been more buoys and kayaks to help swimmers.

“That’s probably a good suggestion as well, mainly because a lot of folks that came to Cleveland from out of town, even some of our local competitors, weren’t used to swimming in Lake Erie,” said Durno.

Durno also recommends out-of-town triathletes practice in choppy waters before the race.

Durno is looking forward to next year when Cleveland hosts the Age Group National Championships again but Hector Garcia says he won’t be back. Rachelle Brown says she’ll return – but only if the swim course is changed.

USA Triathlon says it will review all aspects of the event as part of its standard post-event analysis.

One competitor, 75-year old Jim Hix of Oklahoma, died in the triathlon. There is no evidence that the cause of death was connected to Lake Erie’s conditions.

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