May 1, 2005 – Take away the heat, for a little while at least, and what do you have left? Cloud cover, choppy seas, strong trade winds, 65 percent humidity, and you can bet your bottom dollar the sun will come back out with a vengeance. Add all that to one of the toughest race courses in the world, and you have the St. Croix Half Ironman Triathlon.
These conditions didn't seem to bother the Aussies, though, as they swept the three top spots in the professional men's category.
Shane Reed placed No. 1 as he beat out the field with an overall time of 4:10:41. He was followed by Richie Cunningham with an overall time of 4:13:01. Rounding out the third-place spot was Chris McCormack at 4:16:12 overall. The three top contenders were all born in Australia.
Joanna Zeiger captured the top spot in the women's professionals as she ran for the USA with an overall time of 4:44:47. She was followed closely by Leander Cave of Great Britain, who came in at 4:45:09. The third-place finisher was Canadian Lisa Bentley with a time of 4:46:29.
Closer to home, Christopher Spencer of the British Virgin Islands finished the race in 82nd place with an overall time of 5:13:26. Mike Klein of St. Croix finished 144th overall with a time of 5:38:12.
In this grueling race, the professional runners cross the finish line early, shaking off the 70-mile course of swimming, biking and running like they just came in from a round of one-on-one basketball. They pause at the finish line, take a few deep breaths with their hands on their knees and seem no worse for the wear. However, as the day wears on, so does the stamina of the other racers. That's when the medical team shifts into high gear.
As exhausted runners cross the finish line, red-shirted medical team volunteers rush to their sides. "Their legs just turn to rubber," triathlon volunteer Dr. Don Meyer said. "Their body just says, no more." Meyer, a neurosurgeon at the Juan F. Louis Hospital, has been on island for two years, and this is his first triathlon. There were more than 10 doctors and 30 volunteers in the medical tent. The tent is set up triage style like you see on re-runs of M.A.S.H. Lawn chairs covered in layers of white sheets serve as hospital beds. In the orderly chaos, everyone knows their job and does it well.
The major complaint of the athletes is foot and leg cramps. Their vital signs are checked, and cold towels — stored in 32-gallon grey buckets filled with ice water — are applied to bring down their temperature. Doctors in yellow triathlon polo shirts pull sterile needles from pockets in their cargo pants and hook dehydrated patients to IVs. The next tent over holds rows of massage tables ready to provide athletes a much needed rub down.
Most of the athletes who participated in Sunday's race expressed the same comments. The course was tough; the bike ride was grueling; the scenery was beautiful; the people were fabulous and welcoming, they said. Many will stay several more days to recuperate and enjoy the hospitality. And none will forget their experiences in the 17th annual St. Croix Half Ironman Triathlon.
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