Intermountain Healthcare helps Ironman athletes reach new heights in the ‘land of endurance’

Bike course of the Ironman 70.3 North American Championship, Snow Canyon State Park, Utah, May 1, 2021 | Photo courtesy of the Greater Zion Convention & Tourism Office, St. George News

CONTRIBUTED CONTENT — The Ironman 70.3 World Championship on Saturday will bring together thousands of top professional and age-group competitors to test their mettle on one of the toughest and most exhilarating triathlon courses anywhere.

Starting line of the Ironman 70.3 North American Championship, Sand Hollow State Park, Utah, May 1, 2021 | Photo courtesy of the Greater Zion Convention & Tourism Office, St. George News

While most spectators will be there to watch dreams come to life, event sponsor Intermountain Healthcare, along with a host of other medical and public safety professionals, will be on hand to make sure everyone stays in peak performance during a race that combines a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run to reach the total of 70.3 miles traversed.

Both competitors and event organizers regard the St. George course as one of the more difficult on the Ironman circuit. The terrain is geographically diverse, with taxing climbs and steep descents during the bike and run portions of the race. The rugged desert landscape and oppressive late-summer heat can take a toll on even the most conditioned athletes. 

When a competitor starts struggling physically during the race, medical, public safety and emergency response professionals from throughout the community are standing by to render aid. Most athletes that visit the medical staff are treated for fatigue or dehydration. Others struggle with hyponatremia, which occurs when sodium levels in the blood are depleted.

Dr. Christian Millward, medical director for the upcoming World Championship, said the majority of competitors have prepared themselves well for the course and conditions, so any issues are usually quite routine. 

Millward oversees the aid tents and athletes’ medical care. He served in this capacity, largely as a volunteer, for several years before Intermountain Healthcare began sponsoring Ironman in St. George. 

As a sports medicine physician and a past Ironman competitor himself, Millward knows what it takes to prepare the body to participate in extreme sports like a triathlon. Recognizing that these athletes have dedicated countless hours to training over the course of several months leading up to the race, his medical team is dedicated to doing everything possible to help them cross the finish line safely.

“Everyone wants to finish. Sometimes we can let them, and sometimes it’s against their better judgment,” he said. “If they can’t finish, we have the resources to take care of them so that they can compete another day.” 

Run course of the Ironman 70.3 North American Championship, St. George, Utah, May 1, 2021 | Photo courtesy of the Greater Zion Convention & Tourism Office, St. George News

With the support of 50-100 medical volunteers, most athlete needs can be addressed on-site in the finish line medical tent or along the course at aid stations. But if necessary, athletes can be transported to Intermountain St. George Regional Hospital for additional care.

Kevin Lewis, director of the Greater Zion Convention & Tourism Office, said it’s nearly impossible to overstate the importance of medical support for a race like the World Championship. One of the critical factors in the ability of the St. George area to attract Ironman and other global-scale athletic events is the expertise of the medical, emergency and public safety professionals in the community.  

“Our support teams are second to none,” Lewis said. “They set the bar in every facet of safety and care for this type of event.” 

St. George has become one of the premier championship destinations on the Ironman circuit. In just two years, from May 2021 to May 2023, the communities in Greater Zion will host a total of five Ironman championship events: Two 70.3 World Championships, two 70.3 North American Championships and one full-distance North American Championship.

While the presence of Ironman in Southern Utah has a significant impact on the area’s economy and tourism industry, Millward believes it brings even greater value to the people who cheer from the sidelines. Over the years, he has met many locals who decided to take on a triathlon or a new fitness challenge after watching the race. 

The grit and determination of the athletes who swim, bike and run to glory in the land of endurance serve as a source of motivation, no matter what our goals may be. And that’s precisely why Intermountain Healthcare sponsors the event – to inspire Southern Utahns to challenge themselves to elevate their own personal health. 

Bike course of the Ironman 70.3 North American Championship, Snow Canyon State Park, Utah, May 1, 2021 | Photo courtesy of the Greater Zion Convention & Tourism Office, St. George News

“Intermountain Healthcare has been an anchor in our community providing world-class services here for decades,” Lewis said. “The commitment and dedication of their medical professionals is essential to the quality of life we enjoy and the types of experiences we are able to host.”

Learn more about the Ironman 70.3 World Championship and get involved by volunteering at Ironman.GreaterZion.com.

Written by ALEXA MORGAN for St. George News.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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