Vineman triathlon participant pulled from Russian River dies

An experienced triathlete who was pulled from the Russian River during the Vineman half-triathlon on Sunday has died, becoming the latest in a string of mysterious, sudden deaths that have occurred during triathlons around the country.

San Mateo resident Margaret Hinsdale Pometta, 50, died at Sebastopol's Palm Drive Hospital on Monday evening, a day after she went into cardiac arrest during the first event in the three-part race that includes swimming, cycling and running for a combined 70.3 miles.

Pometta had no history of heart disease, and family members still have no idea what caused her heart to fail, said her sister Therese Block, of Chicago.

"She's done triathlons in Hawaii, everywhere," Block said. "We're shocked. Shocked."

Pometta, who started competing in triathlons about 10 years ago, participated in the Vineman 70.3 last year and did a practice swim along the Russian River course two weeks ago, family members said.

"She was adequately trained for this," said her brother-in-law, Lee Block, who competed in Sunday's Vineman with her. "There's no doubt about that."

"There's really no rhyme or reason," he said. "We kind of keep asking ourselves what happened, and we're not coming up with anything."

The rising popularity of triathlon competitions has been accompanied by increased recognition of the challenges inherent in the swim portion — often a claustrophobic, bruising experience in which dozens of swimmers are vying for position in densely crowded, chilly conditions.

People get bumped, kicked, pushed under. Panic and panic attacks are common.

And there have been deaths, including four alone last August — two during the Nautica New York City Triathlon, another in the Ironman Louisville triathlon, and a fourth in a triathlon in Maine, according to the Associated Press.

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