A doctor competing in an Ironman and trying to qualify for the sport’s world championships made an unexpected stop in the middle of the race, but not because of a flat bike tire or a leg cramp. Dr. Patrica DeLaMora spotted a fellow triathlete who had collapsed, so she jumped in to administer CPR. When the man was stable, she hopped back on her bike and finished the race.
While she doesn’t know what caused the medical emergency, she said she was “relieved, overwhelmed, happy” to later find out that the man survived.
“Any person who knows CPR or who’s medically trained would stop,” DeLaMora tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview. “I think everyone should learn CPR.”
The drama unfolded on Saturday, July 29 during the 140.6-mile Ironman Santa Rosa in California, where athletes swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and then complete a marathon, running 26.2 miles.
DeLaMora, 43, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, was on her bicycle approaching mile 26 of the race when she saw an unconscious man in his 50s on the road surrounded by two other competitors who already had stopped and called 911.
“I said, ‘Do you need a doctor’ and they said yes,” she says. The first two didn’t know CPR but another triathlete who did also stopped, says DeLaMora, adding that the injured rider needed immediate care to restore proper breathing and heart rate functions.
DeLaMora directed the other athlete to do chest compressions while she began rescue breathing. The pair continued CPR for 6 or 7 minutes until emergency medical workers arrived and took over, she says.
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The whole incident took about 15 minutes and DeLaMora went on to continue the race, finishing in 15 hours, 8 minutes, she says. “For me to take 10 to 15 minutes out of my day to help someone, I’m always going to do that,” she says.
While not physically demanding, she said the experience rattled her. At the time, “It was very nerve-wracking to not know what had happened to him,” she says. “People die in these races.”
About 6 hours later, she heard that the man was alive.
The Santa Rosa event was DeLaMora’s 11th Ironman race since she took up the sport in 2012. She is trying to complete 12 Ironman races, which would allow her to enter into a lottery to compete at the 2018 championship in Kona, Hawaii, what she calls, “the ultimate goal.”
She has no regrets about stopping. “It’s not like I’m going to win. And even if I was going to win, you still stop,” DeLaMora says.
The main message she has for people is the importance of CPR. “I’m so thrilled that there were enough people who knew CPR,” she says. “Everyone should learn if they can for this very reason. It’s easy, it’s quick to learn, it saves lives.”