Local medical team cares for athletes during gruelling Ironman 70.3 Muskoka


Huntsville hosted the Subaru Ironman 70.3 Muskoka on Sunday, July 8, 2018 in the heart of downtown.

With another sold-out registration this year, the town was booming over the weekend with 1,600 athletes from all over the world along with their families and friends as spectators.

The Ironman course had the athletes swim a 1.2-mile loop in Fairy Lake and along the Muskoka River, then cycle a 56-mile bike course down Brunel Road, through Baysville and almost to Dorset and back, followed by a 13.1-mile run through and around the outskirts of downtown Huntsville, before finishing back at the Canada Summit Centre (CSC) for a total distance of 70.3 miles (113 kilometres).

For such a large event, the behind-the-scenes planning is one of the most important links to making everything happen smoothly and safely. That includes race director, Nick Stoehr and his race crew, volunteers, sponsors and medical/safety personnel.

Rich Trenholm, a local sports medicine physician and one of the co-founders of TriMuskoka, recruits and organizes a team of medical personnel from both the local area and out of town to tend to athletes throughout the race.

There were medical staff roaming around the start line talking to people to make sure they were okay. “When people get anxious and stressed, combined with a mass start of people, inexperience, and tight wet suits, they can actually get a medical condition specific to swimming in open water,” said Trenholm.

Athletes were instructed to stop and take off their swim cap and wave it around in the air if they were in need of assistance. Medical staff were on the swim course with lifeguards in boats, on paddle boards and in kayaks to watch and support swimmers and, as a precaution, there were four dock locations with a physician and nurse on standby for emergencies.

An off-road vehicle was waiting near the start line in case there was an extraction from the water and an athlete needed to be taken to the paramedics and ambulance stationed at the back of the Active Living Centre. Paramedics Shelley Rodgers and Matt Jokhu were ready to transport athletes to the hospital but said that the medical tent at the finish line was very impressive and could handle most medical issues.

On the bike and run courses, six trucks with medical staff were ready to assist athletes or transport them back to  the medical tent at the CSC. This is the second year that the Ironman has also had medical personnel cycling alongside the athletes. “This is the best way to communicate with the athletes before anything bad happens— check in and offer medical advice,” added Trenholm.

A medical tent was set up at the finish line to act like a mini-hospital as athletes completed the race. Physicians from Huntsville, Orillia and Toronto volunteered their time along with ten massage therapists and members from the Canadian Ski Patrol Muskoka Zone. “We had a pretty comprehensive team of people from the medical side to keep everyone safe,” said Trenholm.

Many members of the medical team did not know each other prior to the race and had to quickly work together to potentially deal with life-threatening issues. “It’s astounding when you have a team of individuals that don’t know each other but come together to provide medical care to people,” said Trenholm. “Everyone knew what to do, they pulled their socks up and put their heads together and got it done!”

More than 200 people were assessed at the medical tent at the finish line. Some athletes needed water, ice and monitoring, while others needed to cool their body down in the kiddie pools provided. Massage helped with cramping muscles. “We sent no one from the finish line to the hospital, we didn’t have to start a single IV on anyone,” said Trenholm. “Only three athletes needed to be removed from the race and taken to the hospital for further evaluation and treatment.”

Having the finish-line medical tent available saves the hospital’s emergency room from being overwhelmed by athletes. This medical team was equipped to provide higher-level care that falls between first aid and full hospital care.

Event organizers give a huge shout out to all medical staff and event volunteers for their support in making Ironman 70.3 Muskoka a positive experience for the athletes, and to the local community and motorists for avoiding the bike and run courses or driving mindfully to help keep the athletes safe while racing.

“The local support is unbelievable!” said race director, Nick Stoehr. “We could not put on such an amazing event without the local support of the volunteers and community.” Read Stoehr’s thank you letter to the community here.

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  1. Henk Rietveld on

    This year, the race was organized so much better than last year. Yes, there were some disruptions, especially around Brunel Road in the morning, but the OPP and the race volunteers were superb.
    Well done.

  2. Chris Bishop on

    I concur! This was my first 70.3 and made sure I was physically prepared for the demands. But it’s not so easy to prepare for the heat, the constant presence of orange shirts and support vehicles made me feel more confident that the event was in good hands. Congrats to Huntsville and the TriMuskoka crew for putting off a wonderfully organized event!

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