Death shocks running communityBy Haide P. Acuna
LAPU-LAPU CITY—Humility Igaña was waiting for her husband at the transition area in Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort and Spa in Cebu’s Lapu-Lapu City to continue with the run segment of the relay in the Cobra Ironman 70.3 Philippines on Sunday.
The clock struck 11:55 a.m., signaling the cutoff time for the bikers. But Ramon Igaña Jr. was nowhere to be found.
Humility started to worry when race vehicles brought a riderless bike bearing TTB-Extreme’s race number R-399. It was Ramon’s.
Ramon, 44, a load controller of Cebu Pacific, died after falling off his bike and hitting his head on the gutter near the turnaround point along South Coastal Road in Talisay City.
An autopsy report later showed that his death was not due to a bumpy road patch, gusty wind or miscalculated maneuvering of the bike. He suffered from “acute pulmonary embolism” that caused him to fall off his bike.
The autopsy, performed by Dr. Kathrina Saavedra Perez and Dr. Theodore Zamora on the request of the family, revealed the presence of several blood clots in Ramon’s lungs.
Perez said death from acute pulmonary embolism could be swift and without warning. But cases of pulmonary embolism are rare among athletes.
According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov), pulmonary embolism is the sudden blockage in a lung artery usually caused by a blood clot that “travels to the lung from the vein.”
Pulmonary embolism could damage part of the lung due to lack of blood flow to the lung tissue that may lead to pulmonary hypertension, it said. It can also cause low oxygen levels flowing to the blood that can damage the organs.
“If a blood clot is large, or if there are many clots, PE (pulmonary embolism) can cause death,” the website said.
Ramon’s death shocked the running community in Cebu.
He and Humility, an obstetrician-gynecologist, belonged to a running club called “Ungo,” whose members would run after sundown when they were done with work.
The couple was well loved as they were known to organize volunteer support aid stations during ultramarathons. Recently, they helped put up 100-kilometer ultramarathons from scratch for runners who couldn’t afford the more expensive ultra races in other parts of the country.
Ramon had always loved to bike. “Biking was really his passion even before we got married. That’s what he really enjoyed doing,” Humility said.
When Cobra Ironman 70.8 Philippines was to be held in Cebu, the couple and family friend, Dr. Benjamin Balauro Jr., formed a team to compete in the mixed relay.
It was no surprise then that Ramon would take on the 90-km bike race while Benjamin would compete in the 1.9-km open water swim and Humility, the 21-km run. They named themselves Team Tyts Bogdo or TTB-Extreme.
Just minutes before the start of the race at Shangri-La on Aug. 5, Ramon and Humility were seen having fun and excited over their first Ironman race.
Then the bull horn for the swim leg signaled the start of the race. Balauro finished the swim leg in 37 minutes and 10 seconds.
Ramon rode on his bike, ready to conquer the route covering the cities of Lapu-Lapu, Mandaue, Cebu and Talisay. He was supposed to make his first turnaround at South Coastal Road in Talisay to head back to Cebu City when witnesses saw his bike wobbling.
Then he collapsed, hitting his head on the gutter.
Rescue personnel brought him to Chong Hua Hospital in Cebu City, but physicians declared him dead on arrival around 9:40 a.m.
Humility, who was at the bike transition area in Shangri-La, started looking for Ramon when he didn’t arrive by the end of the bike cutoff time.
When she saw Ramon’s bike on board a race vehicle, she and Balauro started calling emergency rooms of different hospitals since race marshals didn’t have any information then on what happened to him.
“When we called Chong Hua and asked if there was an Ironman participant brought to the ER (emergency room), they said there was someone but they could not identify him. So I described our team trisuit and the body-marking indicating TTB-Extreme’s race number. They said someone matched the description and that he had expired two hours before,” Balauro said.
Humility rushed to the hospital in an ambulance because roads were still closed for the race.
“When I arrived at the hospital, I saw his body. Ramon was still warm. He was smiling. There was no sign of struggle. He looked very happy,” Humility said over radio station dyAB.
She said her grief was somewhat eased knowing that her husband died doing something he loved.
“Until now, I haven’t been able to cry. I have to be strong for our only daughter, Niña, because mine is a borrowed life,” said Humility, a cancer survivor.
Jolted by Ramon’s death, aspiring triathletes now realize that they should be more mindful of their health condition.
“There’s a lesson to be learned here,” said Tony Galon, president of Cebu Ultrarunners Club.
“We should all be aware and listen to our bodies all the time while doing endurance sports, especially biking and running.”
Annie Neric, a three-time Ironman 70.3 finisher, fitness instructor and gym manager, said aspiring triathletes should consider three things before embarking on the endurance sports.
One is to consider their current fitness level and their willingness to commit to a training plan. Most important is that athletes should learn to listen to their bodies.
Athletes, who register in endurance sports competitions like the Ironman 70.3, sign a waiver standard to most if not all endurance sports.
The waiver states that the participant acknowledges that the activity, including running, bicycling and swimming, is inherently dangerous and an extreme test of physical and mental limits.
It also stipulates that an athlete knows the risks involved in participating in such an event. These include possible serious body injury, permanent disability, paralysis and death.
The participant also owns up the responsibility to be physically fit and appropriately trained for the race.
Cebuano heart surgeon Peter Mancao advised athletes not to take shortcuts if they wished to engage in more extreme sports.
“The bottom line is that we’re trying to promote a healthy lifestyle,” he said.
“Devote time for preparation, proper training and give your body time to adjust. A complete physical examination should reveal any preexisting conditions that might cause harm or even death while pursuing a sport. And for new entrants to the sport, it might be wise to taper down competitiveness and set realistic goals.”
On Monday, Mendel Lopez, Cebuano triathlete and Filipino elite third-placer in the Ironman 70.3, offered his trophy to honor Ramon’s love for the sport.
“To the Igaña family, our deepest condolences. Although we are sorry for your loss, [we] hope this will not dampen the spirit of triathlon in Cebu. Mr. Ramie Igaña will forever be remembered and respected by the triathlon community,” Lopez’s wife, Lorhiz, posted in her Facebook page.
On Wednesday, Kenneth Cobonpue, who designed this year’s Ironman 70.3 finisher’s medal, gave commemorative medals to TTB-Extreme.
Australian Pete Jacobs, the overall winner, gave his trisuit, bib, visor and finisher’s shirt—all signed—to Humility.
Ramon will be laid to rest today. On that night, at least 150 runners will hold a tribute run—a fitting farewell to a beloved friend.
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