The crowd’s roars drowned out the sound this morning of the world-class athletes pouring into Lake Coeur d’Alene.
Suddenly, the gray-green waves erupted into a frothy white as more than four thousand arms beat the water into mist.
“Stay safe. Have fun because you are going to be an iron man,” the announcer bellowed at 7 a.m. as the neoprene-clad mass started the 7th annual Ford Ironman Coeur d’Alene.
Spectators, family members and friends crowded into a wind that forced a run on gloves and fleece. The calendar may have indicated it was summer, but the race started with temperatures in the 40s and wind picked up speed as the swimmers slogged through 2.4 miles of choppy water.
Ironman Swim Director Tim Johnson said that despite the cold outside temperature, the chilly waters of Lake Coeur d’Alene were about 63 degrees. That’s about four degrees warmer than last year.
“The weather was a challenge for the athletes, for sure,” Johnson said. “It was even harder for the slower athletes because they were in the cold water longer. But we had fewer cases of hypothermia than we did last year.”
Several of the 2,200 competitors did not finish the swim and were taken out by the dozens of volunteers, which included life guards on surf boards, kayakers and even two dive rescue teams. Johnson had not yet received a total count of those who dropped out.
Dispatchers with the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office said they had no reports of major injuries or problems.
As the last of the swimmers finished, the crowd’s cheers grew in intensity. All athletes had to finish the swim in 2 hours, 20 minutes or they would not be allowed to compete in the 112 miles of biking and 26.2 run that makes the Ironman what it is.
John and Carol Triplett, of Odessa, Fla., waited nervously at the transition zone where volunteers waited to rip the seal skin-like wet suits off the swimmers who then ran to change clothes to start the bike race.
They spotted their daughter, 30-year-old Dianne Triplett, and the couple then raced over to give her support as she started the second leg of her day-long journey. Dianne Triplett heard their chears and posed briefly for a picture as she mounted her racing bike.
“She didn’t know we were coming … until we showed up to her bed and breakfast on Friday,” John Triplett said.
“She was feeling down but we suprised her,” Carol said.
Their daughter, who works as a lawyer, has been training for months in the much warmer waters in Florida, her mother said.
“She’s been this way all her life. She sets goals and achieves them. She is my hero,” Carol Triplett said with tears in her eyes.
As the Tripletts melted into the crowd to follow the bike race, Mike Rhodes of Newman Lake was just finishing more than two hours of his soggy chore.
Rhodes was among dozens who volunteered as “peelers” to help the swimmers shed their neoprene suits that are necessary to retain body temperatures in the cold water.
“The pro’s don’t want to be touched because they have their own system,” Rhodes said. “Everybody else is just glad to be out of the water.”
One of the last to qualify under the time limit was a 67-year-old man from Spokane. Rhodes followed him to the peeling station, asking his name to make sure he wasn’t suffering from hypothermia.
“It’s inspiring,” Rhodes said. “It gets me fired up for the rest of the year. One of these days, I’m going to do it.”