Steve Mount, 41, of Williston, was by any measure a man on the move. The software engineer and father of three teens was passionate about everything outdoors; from sailing to cycling and even getting muddied up in popular Spartan races.
"He worked out, he regularly biked, ran, weight trained and given the fact that he was diabetic-- didn't stop him," wife Karen Mount said.
So when Steve decided to compete in a Triathlon Sprint event in Shelburne last summer, he approached it with the usual gusto.
"I think the challenge of the multi-sport really intrigued him," Karen said.
On race day, after nearing the end of the 500-yard swim, he ran into trouble.
"He was found by another racer hanging onto the buoy. The racer asked him if he was OK and he said he wasn't feeling great, but that he could continue. And then somewhere between that second buoy and the shoreline-- the finish line where they come out of the water-- is where he had trouble," Karen explained.
Steve was found floating motionless in about 4 feet of water.
"I just ran down the boat launch against the racers coming out and when I got down to the beach at that point, they had gotten him out of the water and they were performing CPR on him, but he never came to," Karen said.
According to the autopsy, Mount died from drowning. But his wife says they may never know what actually happened.
"The adrenaline; pushing himself. Maybe a panic attack, maybe a whole lot of other things, maybe he swallowed a whole lot of water and he went under," she said.
In the last two years, two other Vermont athletes have died in the swimming segment of triathlons; in Lake Elmore last summer and in Lake Dunmore the year before. From the chaos and jostling between swimmers during the mass start to the stresses of competition, experts say even seasoned athletes have a full plate.
"Your body's getting used to the water temperature, it's getting used to the face that you can't breathe as well, plus you've got all this adrenaline flow and all that happening at one time-- that's a lot of stress on the body," said Rayne Herzog, a triathlon director.
In New York, recent triathlon swimming deaths prompted race organizers to consider requiring a pre-certification of athletes. Herzog says that's a bad idea that will discourage beginners in the sport. He says adequate training and coaching is the key.
"Get a hold of someone that actually knows something about this stuff and work with him or her and I think things would be a lot safer," Herzog said.
Since last summer's death, Herzog says they've beefed up communication between first responders and purchased new equipment.
"We've got paddle boards now that all the lifeguards float on. We've got throw buoys, plus we all have whistles now, so everybody is very equipped in communication, but also with equipment," Herzog said.
Karen Mount returned to Shelburne Beach last month to watch the race and says she was pleased with the changes.
"That's my hope. That through all this-- what we've been through-- that no other family has to go through it," she said. "And I really feel confident that especially here locally that has been taken to heart. And I believe they have him in mind with every race that they do from this point forward."
Along with getting adequate training and coaching, experts say to ensure safety, athletes should compete in USA Triathlon sanctioned events. Those include the Shelburne event and three other events in the Race Vermont series.
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