There was some sad news at this weekend’s Ironman 70.3 Augusta event – an athlete competing in the relay died during the swim portion of the race. The athlete has since been identified as George Hall, 60, from Martinez, Georgia. The Augusta Chronicle reported that Hall was a local attorney.
Ironman made a statement on Facebook about the incident:
Rebecca Reeder, a Sociology professor at Florida State College, was the woman who came across Hall as he struggled in the water. She recounted her experience to us in an email earlier today:
I got up super excited and walked down to the transition area from the Holiday Inn and then took the bus transport to the swim start with a friend. We waited in line for the swim start and laughed and talked with strangers. My swim strategy was nothing more than to keep swimming.
As soon as I jumped in the river, my goggles snapped. So, I just kept swimming. Funny, I actually just carried them in my hand until I saw the 1st kayaker and yelled, “My goggles broke and I don’t want to litter.” And I threw the goggles to him.
With no goggles, I had to swim more above the water than usual. At about the sixth buoy I realized I hadn’t started my watch. So I started my watch and passed the seventh buoy. Somewhere between the seventh and eighth buoy I was toward the outer edge of the swimmers when I saw out of the corner of my eye a swimmer who had slowed down. Then he took one swim stroke and then halfway through the other it looked as if he had just gently dropped his head in the water. I yelled “Sir, Sir” when his head didn’t come back up. He was less than two swimmers length away from me. I swam to him and gently shook his back. There was no response, so I pulled him close to my body with my arm under his armpit and his head on my shoulder. While doing this, I started screaming help. His head kept slipping off my shoulder and I just held him as best I could. I kept screaming help. The kayakers heard me, but it wasn’t quick for them to get to us because they were on the other side of the group of swimmers. I finally started screaming, “He’s dying!” This entire time he was unconscious and no longer breathing. There was an extremely nice volunteer kayaker who got to us, but as she and I tried to put him on the kayak, the kayak tipped, knocking her out and filling with water. It was still just her and I. The entire time I kept yelling “He’s dying. Help.” She was screaming something like “blow the whistle” to the other kayakers. At this time the jet ski was heading to us, and at least two, but I think three other swimmers stopped. We all tried to lift him on the jet ski and the jet ski tipped sideways but we were able to keep holding him out of the water. Once the other swimmers had full hold of him, I may have screamed a few more times that he was dying. Honestly, I am pretty sure he had left us before the kayaker made it over. So once the others were able to hold him out of the water and get the jet ski moving, I held on to a second kayak that had made it’s way to me. They got him to a ski boat that sped off. That is the last thing I saw first hand.
I was still in the water and helped the nice volunteer get her kayak to the rock edge of the river. They asked if I wanted a boat and I said “yes.” And I just waited there holding on the second kayak until a boat came to pick me up. I swam to the back of the boat and climbed the stairs and I’m pretty sure I kept saying “I’m sorry, I tried” over and over again. The people on the boat gave me a towel and I remember getting off the boat and being asked if I needed medical attention. I declined medical attention, but one of the volunteers started walking me into transition when one of my Stellar teammates who was there to cheer saw me being led off the course. She ran over and I remember her and a very sweet stranger hugging me as I kept repeating “he died in my arms.” The rest is a blur until I was walking down the road with five or six of my teammates who were there to cheer.
I know I was hugged by many people. At some point I went to my hotel room to take a long hot shower alone in silence. Then I called two very important people who I knew were tracking me to let them know I was physically ok, but I had left the race. I cried to each of them for a few minutes and then walked to my team’s tent so I wouldn’t be alone and so I could support the other Stellar team members, who were in the race. I know I cried most of the day, and was hugged by a lot of strangers.
According to news and spectator reports after Reeder helped get him out of the water Hall was transferred to a boat where firefighters and EMT continued to treat him as he was brought back to shore. He was then taken to Augusta University Medical Center where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy will be performed this week.