The XTERRA Story

The XTERRA Story

An excerpt from "Adventures in Medicine" - Coming Fall 2010:

Before each mountain bike race or off-road triathlon that I do, I try to visualize the course, especially the areas where I can expect difficult transitions and technical problems. At that time, I usually wonder why I put myself through events that are not only potentially dangerous, but often bring me to my limit physically. Knowing that "living on the edge" can lead to disaster as well as satisfaction of accomplishment, I also contemplate what I would do if I were seriously injured or come across someone who is. Should I stop for liability issues or would I stop if I was in the "hunt" for first place. Having put it in perspective in the real world of an amateur age-group athlete nearing the oldest category, the decision became quite easy. There was an obligation for me to act as a physician above anything else no matter what role I was in outside of medicine. Being a retired emergency physician, I knew that I would never forgive myself if I ignored another racer in medical need. In the Saipan XTERRA Triathlon, I was tested physically, mentally, and ethically in this regard.

My bicycle racing career started at the same time as my emergency medicine career in 1974. In the Dark Ages of Emergency Medicine I was the first full-time "ER Doc" at Penrose Hospital. Besides providing constant medical stimulation, the shift work in the ER provided time to pursue there my passion for physical fitness and athletics. Cycling was appealing to me during my time interning in the Berkeley Hills and in the Colorado Mountains where I started my emergency medicine career. Initially, I wasn't very competitive in amateur road racing. When off-road racing in mountain biking and cyclocross developed in Colorado, I found my niche as I had in my chosen medical career. Just as I became boarded in emergency medicine, I progressed into Masters Mountain Bike Racing where I participated in many memorable events. I competed in several Masters World Championships where I certainly wasn't the best, but usually finished in the top ten. Believe me, there were some even crazier, tough old dudes out there. As my mountain biking and emergency medicine career were winding down, I became involved in a new off-road triathlon in Maui called XTERRA which combines rough water swimming, mountain biking, and trail running instead of the traditional sport combination. XTERRA Triathlons have since multiplied exponentially around the USA and the World. The end of the XTERRA season is now at an original venue in Maui. The now dubbed XTERRA World Championships are held in October, usually a week after the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. I retired from emergency medicine the same year that I was fortunate enough to win my age group at the 2002 XTERRA World Championship. At the time, my intent was to retire from racing, having finally completed my competitive goal.

I did stop. But I also missed the events and camaraderie that the XTERRA Triathlons had to offer. XTERRA Saipan was my first race for two years and, being a little rusty, the thoughts that I have described were dominating my mind before the race. As the race progressed, however, I could feel the old, competitive mind-set kick in as usual. It was in over-drive towards the end of the mountain bike as I descended the last, slick gravel roads feeling strong and "kicking some butt....even some young butt." As I came over a small rise in the descent, laid out on the side of the road in front of me was a fellow racer, an unconscious young man who had apparently just crashed. His notable physical condition from the blur of one hundred feet as I sped toward him was his blue face twisted toward me underneath his bicycle helmet. I won't lie. I did say something like, "oh ....", and had a momentary thought to continue. I did skid to a halt; however, living up to my vow figuring that my race was over and my emergency medicine career was restarting. I repositioned his head and swept his mouth while maintaining c-spine control. He pinked up immediately, but remained unconscious while I maintained traction on his head and called for help to some bystanders, including one of the cameramen from the TV crew filming the race and now me in medical action. EMT Firemen—yes, Saipan is a Member of the Commonwealth of the USA of the Northern Mariana's—arrived about ten minutes later followed by an ambulance five minutes after that. He remained unconscious until just before the ambulance arrived, confused and combative for a few minutes, and then he was finally able to tell us his name and address. I then reexamined him. Not finding any spine tenderness or obvious chest and abdominal injuries, I instructed the Firemen to immobilize him, transport him to the hospital where I knew they had a CT, and tell the emergency physician on duty the history. At that point, I felt I could continue the race, which I did, finishing second by seven minutes in my age group. When I got back to my hotel room a few hours later, I called the ER and discussed the case with the emergency physician. The patient was alert and doing well without evidence of other injuries. His scan showed some questionable cerebral asymmetry without shift. There was no radiologist to over-read it. The patient was admitted for observation by the general surgeon on the island as the nearest neurosurgeon was in Guam. I did not get a call back from the emergency physician, who promised to call if the patient deteriorated. I assumed he did well.

During the post-race party and award ceremony that night, I received my medal for second place. At the end of the award ceremony, I was given a special Spirit Award with a complimentary speech given by the President of the XTERRA Organization honoring what I had done. As I reflect on that award, I believe that it represents the ultimate culmination of both my medical and athletic career. The next weekend, at the XTERRA New Zealand, the TV crew made me the featured competitor for their upcoming production of the event.

coming soon

"Adventures in Medicine"