High Cliff Triathlon death came despite rescue efforts

SHERWOOD — Organizers say every precaution was taken Saturday 16.6.2012 to ensure the safety of competitors at the High Cliff Triathlon, where a competitor drowned.

Doug Witmer, 42, of La Grange, Ill., who was competing in the 1.2-mile swim portion of the half-iron triathlon at High Cliff State Park, drowned at 7:49 a.m.

It was the first death in the nine-year history of the event, according to Gloria West, executive director of Midwest Sports Events, the De Pere-based sponsor of the annual event.

“Our staff dealt with it very professionally,” she said.

As soon as Witmer went underwater, West said, “there was a tremendous amount of medical help with the safety patrol boat, rescue divers and other medical personnel, who brought Witmer to the shore.”

That’s where the Harrison First Responders, Calumet County Sheriff’s Department, High Cliff State Park ranger, paid lifeguards staffing the event and Gold Cross Ambulance took over.

West does not know whether Witmer was pronounced dead at the scene, or after he was transported to the hospital.

Dr. Alan Cherkasky of Kaukauna has competed in many triathlons, including the High Cliff Triathlon, where on Saturday he finished the half-iron race that Witmer also had entered. It entailed a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run.

“Each race has its own challenges,” Cherkasky said. “High Cliff is no easier or harder; it’s a pretty standard triathlon. I think what sets High Cliff apart is that it is very well-organized — some races aren’t — and has lots of volunteers. I know for a fact that the medical care was right on the spot yesterday. (West) dots all her i’s and crosses all her t’s.”

The swimming portion of any triathlon also can be the most intimidating for any triathlete, beginner or experienced, he said.

“The water holds special challenges — temperature, waves, weather,” said Cherkasky, a member of the Fox Cities Triathlon Club. “And, I think for some people, that’s where they get the most nervous. I’ve known very experienced triathletes who sometimes get a panic (attack) when they get in the water.”

To combat that locally, the triathlon club holds beginner swim sessions at High Cliff so people can get comfortable in the water and in swimming with other people.

That Witmer chose to swim with the wave of slower swimmers could suggest someone who is new to the event or uncertain about their ability, Cherkasky said.

“Any event has inherent risks, whether it’s somebody power-walking, somebody in a running race or in a triathlon,” Cherkasky said. “People should not go into any of these events without being properly trained, and if there is any hint of a bad family history or a bad medical history, certainly someone should be medically evaluated prior to one of these events.”

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About swimbikerun1
Devoted Father, Husband and Employee.Endurance sports fanatic (running,cycling,swimming).Triathlon athlete and coach.If only days had more than 24 hours.

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