A competitor in a grueling triathlon held annually in San Francisco has died.
The man has been identified as 46-year-old Ross Ehlinger. He becomes the first person in the 33-year history of the “Escape From Alcatraz” event to die during the event.
“Escape From Alcatraz” doesn’t literally include an escape from Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary (it closed in the early 1960s and visitors are free to come and go as they please), though it would be awesome if it did. Fighting off a team of armed guards before jumping off a cliff and swimming away would be so bad-ass.
There are no guards, though. The race does include a swim in the often-frigid San Francisco Bay water, however, and that’s grueling enough for most people.
The cold water appears to be what triggered the death of Ehlinger, according to the medical examiner. A doctor who has participated in numerous “Escape” triathlons speculated that Ehlinger probably had an underlying health condition.
“I would bet that there’s a heart problem and not a drowning problem,” he told the Associated Press.
Others disputed that the water could have played a role, noting that it is almost always very cold — usually in the mid-50s — and no one has died before.
As triathlons become more popular, there is an emerging trend of athletes attempting to complete them without first getting a thorough medical exam or ensuring they are in proper shape. “Escape From Alcatraz” is one of the highest-profile events of the sort and it’s not uncommon for dozens of swimmers to require assistance from the event safety crew during the water portion of the race.