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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Athletes, volunteers battle record heat at Coeur d’Alene Ironman

A triathlon is never easy, but Sunday’s Ironman Coeur d’Alene may have pegged a new level of difficulty.

That’s due to record-breaking heat that overwhelmed competitors, volunteers and spectators alike. Capping one of the hottest weekends in memory, Sunday brought record highs for June throughout the region, exceeding the records set Saturday. The Spokane International Airport reached 105 degrees – the hottest since Aug. 4, 1961, according to National Weather Service records – and it was just as hot in the Lake City.

“This is the hottest, absolutely, by far,” said Kristen Rushton, who knelt over her panting husband, Michael, shortly after he crossed the finish line in just under 10 hours, completing his ninth Ironman and his third in Coeur d’Alene.

Both triathletes, the Rushtons brought six of their 10 children from Baker City, Oregon, to cheer from the sidelines alongside thousands of sweat-drenched spectators who rang cowbells and waved signs at the passing athletes.

Several, including some repeat Ironman competitors, reported it was their hottest triathlon yet. Many were carted to a medical tent on stretchers and in wheelchairs after their legs gave out from heat exhaustion.

Of the 1,710 athletes who started the race early in the morning, 1,335 finished. Nearly 300 others who registered didn’t show up at the starting line, said Dan Berglund, an Ironman spokesman.

The race began with a 2.4-mile swim in Lake Coeur d’Alene. Those who finished the swim dried off quickly as they mounted their bikes. After 112 miles of pedaling, athletes slipped on their running shoes for a 26.2-mile marathon.

The start time was moved up a half-hour, to 5:30 a.m., to help beat the heat. But there was little escaping the triple-digit temperatures that fried athletes and onlookers, who peeled off clothes and wore hats soaked in cool water. Many flocked to sparse patches of shade under trees that lined the streets.

“I saw one house a few blocks back where people had pulled out their garden hoses, and they were spraying cool water on the athletes,” said Colleen De Reuck, 51, a four-time Olympic runner who attended as a spectator. Her husband, Darren, was being treated in the medical tent after collapsing at the finish line.

The heat took its toll on volunteers, too.

“Every year it’s a new experience,” said Eva Limon, 62, who traveled from Southern California to join her daughter and granddaughter in setting up the event. Andrea Zazuetta, 41, and her daughter, Jess, 16, have volunteered at every Ironman Coeur d’Alene since they moved to Post Falls eight years ago.

“It’s hot, but we love it,” Andrea Zazuetta said.

Adding to the chaos of Sunday’s event, firefighters were called to a tractor-trailer crash on Interstate 90 at the Sherman Avenue entrance, just a few hundred yards from the marathon course. And the truck was carrying millions of bees.

The eastbound lanes backed up for miles after the second trailer behind the truck tipped over around 2 p.m., releasing clouds of bees that became agitated in the sweltering heat.

Firefighters sprayed cool water, Idaho State Police warned people to keep clear of the area, and a tow truck crew donned beekeeping suits to work on removing the truck and trailer. One beekeeper said 300 hives were inside.

It was the third time a truck carrying honeybees has crashed on a Northwest highway since mid-April.

Record highs were set across the region Sunday. The mercury shot up to 108 in Colville and at Felts Field, 109 in Wenatchee, 110 in Omak, 111 in Lewiston, 112 in Moses Lake and 113 in Walla Walla.

Forecasters also raised a red flag to warn of possible thunderstorms, gusty winds and low humidity Sunday night through today – a dangerous mix for wildfires for an already parched landscape. Spokane hasn’t had measureable rain since June 1, and the thunderstorms may not bring much of it, either, said Steven Van Horn, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Spokane.

The good news is it won’t get as hot today. The highs are expected to ease back into the 90s for a few days across the Inland Northwest before creeping back up to triple-digits heading into the Independence Day weekend.