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Thread: Alcatraz Death

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    Alcatraz Death

    I was saddened to hear that a swimmer died this weekend while attempting the Alcatraz Challenge. My thoughts are with the family and friends of Sally Lowes of Houston.

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    Very Active Member Swimmy's Avatar
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    Cool Re: Alcatraz Death

    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/...n/5029946.html

    Here is a link to the story. Very sad.
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    Very Active Member islandsox's Avatar
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    Re: Alcatraz Death

    I am most sorry for this terrible outcome for Ms. Lowes and her family. I wish them to find peace in the coming days.
    Insanity is hereditary--you get it from your kids

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    Re: Alcatraz Death

    Every swim race director's fear... I pray for the family, friends, and race director, knowing how much pain something like this will cause.

    It's sobering. One might at least say that the person died in mid-adventure, following a passion. We will all die one day, and of something. It would be even sadder to leave behind regret that one lived in fear of trying things because they could be unsafe.

    I feel for Ms. Lowes, and I hope that her family finds comfort in the fact that she chose "the road less traveled," embraced life and its challenges.

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    Re: Alcatraz Death

    A sad thing, indeed. My condolences to her loved ones.

    I am curious if anyone knows the cause of death. I tried googling for the info, but can't find anything.

    I guess the short question would be "Did she die because she was doing something dangerous (open water swimming), or because it was simply her time"? I heard about it from someone who seems to think OWS is pretty dangerous.

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    Re: Alcatraz Death

    As the race director for the event, let me say that all of us associated with the event are terribly saddened by what occurred & our thoughts, condolences and prayers are with Ms. Lowes' family & friends (who are discussing a return to next year's event to honor & commemorate her).

    As to the cause of death, the medical examiner's report will not be ready for at least another 2 months - yes, it's a long, long time. And until the report is finalized, it's pure speculation to say what caused her death.

    As for OWS being unsafe, in particular swimming from Alcatraz, the Alcatraz Challenge has been around for 27 years and there are now a total of 7 commercial Alcatraz events put on by various groups each year with roughly 5,000 to 6,000 people doing the crossing annually - some as young as 10 and some in their 70's.

    To date, I estimate that upwards of 30,000 to 35,000 people have swum from Alcatraz over the years. And in all that time, with all those who have completed the crossing successfully, this is the first time someone has died. Unsafe? You be the judge.
    Gary Emich

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    Re: Alcatraz Death

    Thanks for posting Gary. I'm sure that the last few weeks have been terrible for you with criticism from people who know nothing about open water swimming. In my experience (6 Alcatraz swims so far), you and the other race directors have done a fantastic job of making a challenging swim safe and enjoyable. Unfortunately, it is possible to die while swimming- even in a 25 yard pool. Hopefully this tragic death of a swimmer in the Alcatraz Challenge won't lead to future events being cancelled anytime conditions are less than ideal.

    Hang in there!

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    Very Active Member FindingMyInnerFish's Avatar
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    Re: Alcatraz Death

    Quote Originally Posted by trout View Post
    Thanks for posting Gary. I'm sure that the last few weeks have been terrible for you with criticism from people who know nothing about open water swimming. In my experience (6 Alcatraz swims so far), you and the other race directors have done a fantastic job of making a challenging swim safe and enjoyable. Unfortunately, it is possible to die while swimming- even in a 25 yard pool. Hopefully this tragic death of a swimmer in the Alcatraz Challenge won't lead to future events being cancelled anytime conditions are less than ideal.

    Hang in there!
    I don't think any athletic event can be guaranteed safe. I think most of us know this when we sign up. I've been in marathons in which deaths have occurred, and for that matter, someone had a heart attack and died in a 5k run in which I participated. All of these races were very well organized, had EMT's available and water stations and all the safety precautions in place. Sometimes deaths have occurred in people apparently very fit.

    I also know that this is the race director's nightmare come true. I was in communication (for an article) with a swim race director who spoke of the constant worry race directors have about something going wrong safetywise, and the many levels of care taken to prevent such things from happening. Yet they sometimes still happen, despite every effort to the contrary. Fortunately, in the race I mention, everyone's either finished or dnf'd safely. I'm grateful for that, and the r.d. is exceedingly grateful. It's an immense responsibility, and not a single race director I've met doesn't take that to heart. Gemich, I'm very sorry this happened and, as mentioned eariler, my condolences and prayers also go to you as you try to sort out what took place.

    If I were the one to leave life during/after a race, I hope my family and friends would know that at least I went out doing something I loved. There's a saying that "if you never risk anything, you risk even more."

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    Re: Alcatraz Death

    Quote Originally Posted by gemich View Post
    To date, I estimate that upwards of 30,000 to 35,000 people have swum from Alcatraz over the years. And in all that time, with all those who have completed the crossing successfully, this is the first time someone has died. Unsafe? You be the judge.
    I'd say that the Alcatraz swim is safer than getting in my car and making the ususal morning commute.

    Gary, I'm so sorry this happened. My condolences to you and to the family.

    If I could choose how to go when my time comes, I wouldn't mind going this way, quickly, doing something I love. Dying while swimming or running doesn't scare me at all; what does is a lingering death in some hellhole of a nursing home from some horrible condition like a disabling stroke or Alzheimer's disease with my mind gone and my body incapacitated. Harsh as it sounds, in the long term, we will all be dead, and there are much much worse ways to die than in an open water swim. I know this is scant consolation, but perhaps this was her time, her chance to go in a way that avoided the proverbial fate worse than death.

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    Re: Alcatraz Death

    I am a teammate and friend of Sally Lowes, the swimmer who died at Alcatraz. I can assure you that her death has been very difficult for her family and friends. We don't know what happened to her yet and may never know. Nevertheless, I think Sally was doing something she really loved and the Alcatraz swim was a challenge she was looking forward to for months. I saw her moments before we all went in the water and she was as excited as the rest of us.

    Her son told me he wanted to make the swim next year and finish it for his mom. If he does, many of us will be with him.

    Fred Johnson
    Houston, TX

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    Re: Alcatraz Death

    Fred - thanks for your post. My heartfelt sympathy to you and all of Sally's friends and family. I love that you wrote "she was excited..." Indeed. I hope my friends remember me as one who was excited and passionate about something as opposed to "last time I saw her she was sloshed on a bar stool."

    Hope to see your Team next year.

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    Re: Alcatraz Death

    Fred,

    Thanks for the update. If you could let us know the results of the medical examiner's report when it is available, that would be great. It may help to counter the negativity we participants (and RDs).

    As to RDs getting flak about "unsafe events", all I can say is that anyone who makes such a charge has no idea what they are talking about. It is simple probability theory. If one out of 10,000 people is likely to die while exercising, then an event that has had 10,000 participants is likely to have a death occur. It is no reflection on the organizers, it is simple math.

    I understand the "RD's nightmare", but the nightmare is due to the attacks by the ignorant and those in the media who want to create a saleable story. It is not that the RD has somehow failed to exercise due caution. Every OWS, cycling, or running event I have done has been safer than driving to the event.

    RDs: Hang in there, you do a great job.

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    Very Active Member FindingMyInnerFish's Avatar
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    Re: Alcatraz Death

    Quote Originally Posted by paularchibald View Post
    Fred,

    Thanks for the update. If you could let us know the results of the medical examiner's report when it is available, that would be great. It may help to counter the negativity we participants (and RDs).

    As to RDs getting flak about "unsafe events", all I can say is that anyone who makes such a charge has no idea what they are talking about. It is simple probability theory. If one out of 10,000 people is likely to die while exercising, then an event that has had 10,000 participants is likely to have a death occur. It is no reflection on the organizers, it is simple math.

    I understand the "RD's nightmare", but the nightmare is due to the attacks by the ignorant and those in the media who want to create a saleable story. It is not that the RD has somehow failed to exercise due caution. Every OWS, cycling, or running event I have done has been safer than driving to the event.

    RDs: Hang in there, you do a great job.
    I couldn't agree more, but by using the phrase "RD's nightmare," I meant only to express sympathy for the race director, not AT ALL to suggest any fault. Exactly the opposite! The race directors I know (in running as well as swimming events) care very deeply about safety. To have something go wrong in a race when one has taken such care to ensure that participants are safe must then be very, very painful--since it's what they work so hard to prevent. If my choice of words suggested that I saw any fault in the race director, I am very sorry, because that was the complete opposite of what I intended.

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    Re: Alcatraz Death

    Having participated in the Alacatraz swim this year i was dissapointed in the lack of support boats. Compared to years past, support seemed to be lacking in 2007.

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    Re: Alcatraz Death

    I'm not sure which Alcatraz event you're referring to since there are 6 commercial ones but if you're alluding to the Alcatraz Challenge which I run, the truth is that we had more support boats out there - both power & kayaks - than in past years. What may have caused you to believe there were fewer is that because of the choppy water that kicked in during the race swimmers got more spread out than normal.

    Also, as both a swimmer & kayaker out in the Bay, I know when you're swimming with your head only 3-4 inches out of the water, your field of vision is very limited whereas I know as a kayaker sitting 3 feet out of water I cover a lot more ground visually. In other words, you the swimmer may not see any kayaks around but most definitely the kayaker can see you.

    Hope this helps.

    Gary
    Gary Emich

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    Re: Alcatraz Death

    Quote Originally Posted by Crabcake View Post
    Fred - thanks for your post. My heartfelt sympathy to you and all of Sally's friends and family. I love that you wrote "she was excited..." Indeed. I hope my friends remember me as one who was excited and passionate about something as opposed to "last time I saw her she was sloshed on a bar stool."

    Hope to see your Team next year.
    Couldn't agree more. Hope to see you next year.

    Fred

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    Re: Alcatraz Death

    This unfortunate event came up at a school board meeting in Idaho where I live if you can believe that. One member was there watching a family member swim. The question unanswered was what happened to the swimmer. Does anyone know yet? On a positive note, even here in land locked Idaho there were a couple of folks who want to make the trek for this great event including myself. Enthusiasm remains high in spite of the loss of one of our own!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Spudfin

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    Very Active Member JimCanSwim's Avatar
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    Re: Alcatraz Death

    I agree with that sentiment. I've never done it but I want to in the next year or two. Not even so much as a race but as an experience I want to have as a swimmer.

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    Very Active Member Ron Lockman's Avatar
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    Re: Alcatraz Death

    Has anyone heard what the cause of death was?

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    Re: Alcatraz Death

    Thanks for the reminder Ron.

    The medical examiner released the autopsy results in November. The official cause of death was cardiac arrythmia. I think it is also significant to note that there was no water found in her lungs meaning that her death likely was instantaneous.

    As a sidebar, last weekend I attended the 2008 USA Triathlon Race Directors Symposium in Colorado Springs. Last year, there were a total of 6 fatalities in USAT sanctioned events (the most ever). All were of a medical nature and 5 occurred during the swim portion of the event - one literally with a kayaker next to the swimmer. Five of the six race directors were in attendance at the symposium and we had a separate meeting with USAT officials and ourselves to discuss what happened in each situation, to discuss what if anything can be done to further enhance the safety of the swim leg of triathlons and to discuss crisis and post-crisis protocols to ensure that all the right things are done for the family.

    As the sport of triathlon grows bigger (USAT reached 100,000 members in 2007) and as open water swimming gains popularity due to the advent of the 10k open water swim in the 2008 Bejing Olypmics, I can only surmise that these tragic occurrences will continue.

    The positive side is that with these deaths on the radar screen of USAT race directors, swims will probably be as safe as they can ever get as safety plans are reviewed and revised wherever possible.

    And last but not least and not that this necessarily would have made a difference in Sally Lowes situation but I ask each of you when you had your last thorough medical examination. If it's been a while, you owe it to yourself, to your spouse and to your children to get one.

    Life is way too short to have an existing medical condition go undetected and untreated.

    To a safe and great 2008.

    Gary
    Gary Emich

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