Preparation is key for triathletes

In the most recent New York City triathlon, two competitors died because of injuries incurred during the swimming event. While this should not discourage triathlon participation, it is a reason for caution.

Triathlon competitions are a combination of swimming, cycling and running in a single event. The most well-known event is held each year in Hawaii and consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.

These events are more popular when distances are shortened. The New York event is made up of a 0.9-mile swim, 24.8-mile bike and 6.2-mile run. These shorter distances allow for broader participation, in regard to age and ability.

Recent studies show the death rate for triathletes is twice that of marathon participants. In a 2010 study published in the medical journal, JAMA, where 14 deaths from triathlons were analyzed, 13 of these occurred during the swim portion of the event while the other resulted from a bike accident.

Autopsies revealed the majority of those who died had cardiac abnormalities. Autopsy reports are unavailable for the two most recent triathlon deaths, although the cause of death is presumed cardiac in origin.

While the number of deaths in triathlon is relatively small (15 deaths per million participants), efforts should be taken to make these events safer. Physical examination of each athlete before an event is not practical, but all participants should be examined annually by their personal physician to determine if it is safe to participate in extreme events like triathlons.

The mass start of the swim event makes collisions inevitable and impedes the ability to reach an injured athlete. Staggered starts should be considered.

Triathlons are a great way to crosstrain and remain physically fit. Adequate preparation must include a thorough medical evaluation at any age.

Heat stroke is an avoidable tragedy

Seven young athletes have already died in the United States this month; most of these deaths were the result of exertional heat stroke (EHS). High school football camps will begin this week in the northeast and it is imperative that athletes, coaches and parents are aware of the early symptoms and treatment of EHS.

EHS, along with heat exhaustion and heat cramps, are part of a group of conditions known as heat-related illnesses. EHS is the most severe in what is a succession of events that can result in death without prompt intervention.

Most athletic activities in warm climates will easily get an athlete’s body temperature to 102 degrees Fahrenheit from the norm of 98.6. As the body approaches 105, sweating stops and the athlete will begin to experience headache, nausea, lightheadedness and confusion.

Treatment consists of rapidly lowering the body temperature. Certified athletic trainers are familiar with a protocol that requires the athlete to be immersed in an ice bath before transport to a hospital. The results are dramatic and lifesaving.

“We are now seeing more EHS since athletes spend most of the off season training in air-conditioned environments,” said Dr. Douglas Casa, a professor at the University of Connecticut and a recognized expert in heat-related illnesses. “This doesn’t allow their bodies to acclimatize to the warmer temperatures.” He also believes the increased size of athletes plays a significant role in EHS.

EHS can be prevented by following these simple steps:

• Gradually acclimatize to warmer temperatures before full workouts begin. The most vulnerable period is the first five days of practice
• Athletes should report early symptoms to a knowledgeable coach or an athletic trainer.
• An ice bath should be easily accessible for emergency use.

Early tips to ward off childhood obesity

Childhood obesity continues to be a growing worldwide problem. It results in the early onset of many chronic conditions not typically seen in children like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated lipids and heart disease. It may also lead to significant depression and poor self-image.

Recent calls for obese children to be removed from their homes emphasize the parental responsibility of overseeing that children are physically fit. A program should begin at infancy and proceed through scholastic sports.

Infant programs typically involve both parents and children. Swim classes introduce infants to aquatic activities while making them safer around bodies of water. Parent-child groups that include a combination of walking and stretching have become popular from both fitness and social perspectives.

Youth sports are often a child's first introduction to team sports and the advantages and disadvantages that go along with these activities. In the past, youth sports were a playground and sandlot activity. Now they are subject to parental coaches, uniforms and draft systems to choose the most talented players.

Team competitive sports may not be the best choice for some children. Individual activities such as swimming, running, martial arts and cycling can be a better alternative. Multiple activities help develop a broader interest and utilize different muscle groups. Specializing in one sport at an early age may lead to disappointment. Many successful athletes played multiple sports and some were drafted professionally in more than one sport.

As academic and social pressures increase in high school and college, sports become an outlet for expression and relaxation. Unfortunately, it is at this stage when a sense of perspective should be reinforced. Injuries must be monitored and treated properly, but are often the end of promising careers.

Choosing and supporting a child's participation in sports is important for proper physical and mental development.