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Four Stories Of Altruism In Triathlons

  • By Susan Lacke
  • Published Mar 26, 2014

Four moving stories of race-day altruism.

The Good Doctor

When Dr. Richard Wall retired from emergency medicine, he planned to spend his days at his condo in Kauai, Hawaii, mountain biking and traveling the world for XTERRA races. Little did he know, his days saving lives weren’t done just yet.

“I chose to race XTERRA Saipan [in the western Pacific Ocean] because it looked to be a real adventure,” recalls Wall with a soft chuckle. “That particular day, I was having a great race being the oldest person in the field and kicking some young butt on the mountain bike.”

The undulating course and thick foliage proved challenging, but Wall was undeterred, focused solely on winning his 65-69 age group. He describes “flying” down the peaks at 30 miles per hour when he made a startling discovery in the middle of the trail, causing him to skid to a stop.

“There was an unconscious racer lying on his back in the middle of the trail. His face was blue under his helmet,” he says.

In that moment, Richard Wall, age-group triathlete, reverted to Dr. Wall, emergency room physician. Within seconds, Wall had repositioned the fallen racer’s head and jaw to open his airway. Wall was in the process of stabilizing the man’s spine when a spectator appeared down the road. He yelled at her to call an ambulance, which arrived just as the athlete was starting to regain consciousness.

“Talk about being in the right place at the right time,” says Trey Garman, vice president of XTERRA. “We certainly felt like there was an angel among us that day.”

The athlete, a Saipan resident, made a full recovery. Wall continues to race XTERRA, and participated in his 16th consecutive world championship in 2013. He has returned to medicine as well, serving as the medical director of Geneva Hospice in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“I wonder at times whether I see myself more as an athlete or a physician,” Wall says, “but both activities really define who I am. However, there is no doubt in my mind which takes precedence in emergency situations like this. I would never forgive myself for making personal glory more important than doing the right thing.”

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