Reaction to death of athlete in Ironman competition

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- As Ironman athletes pack to leave Louisville with the satisfaction of completing another race, many of their thoughts are with the one who won't return home.

46-year-old Mark Wezka of Lancaster, New York suffered cardiac arrest and drowned during competition.  His autopsy showed an underlying heart condition.

Ironman competitor Mike Manno explains, "It's so sad because this is sort of a health-conscious event.  Everyone here eats right and trains hard and to hear of people actually dying during the event -- it's sad."

It happened during the 2.4 mile swim through the Ohio River -- the first, and what Manno calls the most intense, part of the triathlon:  "When you jump into the water and people are hitting you, it's the hardest part of the race to just calm down and do your race and unfortunately it just seems to get people."

Unfortunately, dying during a triathlon is not unusual, but it turns out it almost always happens to triathletes during the swimming portion of the race.  Thirteen of the 14 triathlon-linked deaths reported in the U.S. between 2006 and 2008 happened during the swim.

A study in the Journal of American Medical Association found these athletes twice as likely to die during competition than marathon runners.  Cardiologist Dr. Rita Coram explains it's due to, "something called long QT syndrome, which is an innate abnormality in the electrical system of the heart cell....there's one type that is inherited and if one has it, they wouldn't know about it, but they do have a tendency to go into sudden cardiac death when they jump into cold water."

Another competitor, Manuel Sanchez, says, "it takes two to three weeks just to get the human system and whole body to re-energize."

Sixty-five competitors from the Louisville competition advance to the Ironman World Championship.

Racers say Wezka was part of a culture that you'd have live to understand. Competitor Mark Nelson says, "my heart goes out to his family, but this man died doing something he loved. You can't get any better than that."

Ironman is known as the most challenging of all triathlons, with a 140-mile course.

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