Safety wins big

August 2011 News

A mere 30 seconds after the first wave of Wilkes-Barre Triathlon swimmers hit the water at Harveys Lake, the radios aboard the main boats that oversee that part of the race crackled with instruction.

"Watch the swimmer all the way in the back, doing the breaststroke, she's struggling."

"Stay on this guy to the left here, he seems like he's having trouble breathing."

Alda Maturi steered a pontoon boat toward a distressed swimmer while John McGurk and Jerry Patton stood near the

boat's edge to see if a rescue is needed.

"Stay calm," Maturi yelled. "Don't move; we're coming to you."

And so the vigilance went on and on, until the last of the swimmers set foot on the shoreline an hour later.

The 1.5-kilometer swim is often thought of as the most harrowing part of the triathlon, which also includes 40-kilometer cycling and 11-kilometer running sections. For this reason, 75 lifeguards, 15 canoes, eight kayaks, two pontoon boats, two speed boats, and several scuba and rescue teams are stationed on the lake.

Volunteers run the gamut from local college students to former triathlete participants. McGurk, who has helped organize the course and safety patrol of the swim portion for the past three years, participated in the Wilkes-Barre Triathlon 13 times and has a background as a swimming coach. Patton, who has volunteered for 24 years, also participated in the triathlon. Maturi, also with over 20 years of volunteering, has worked around water all her life at marinas, as a swim instructor, and restoring boats.

"You need to be a water person to do this," she said.

On race day, five o'clock in the morning finds three boats maneuvering the dark water of the lake, dropping buoys that will guide athletes. They're moved three, four, five times until deemed to be in the appropriate place.

This attention to detail is also paid to the 400-plus swimmers who plunge into the lake. Every person stationed on a water craft along the route makes sure those that need help get it, and fast.

The boat Maturi steered sat at the start of the swim, where McGurk said many of the rescues take place.

"It usually takes about the first 100 yards to figure out you're in trouble," he said. "Cramps, trouble breathing, or just panic; there are many things that can stop someone."

Not only do rescuers help allay physical ailments, but those that wear on a triathlete's psyche.


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