Tough Mudder Rescue Diver’s Heart Stops, in Critical Condition

PHOTO: A competitor crawls in mud while competing in the Tough Mudder endurance race in Henley-on-Thames, England on April 27, 2014.
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Tough Mudder, races that have acquired a reputation for dangerous obstacles and bizarre injuries, experienced another setback recently when a rescue diver's heart stopped in the middle of a race in Ohio.

The diver, whose name has not been released, was stationed in the water at the Walk-the-Plank obstacle in Mansfield, Ohio, where racers are required to jump off a 15-foot platform into cold, muddy water, according to Tough Mudder spokesman Ben Johnson. Johnson could not confirm details of what happened to the diver, but race participant Bret Buike said he was the one to notice the diver and helped save his life.

“We just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Buike told ABC News. “We were able to act quickly enough that it seems like we potentially saved this man’s life.”

This was the same type of obstacle where 28-year-old Avishek Sengupta drowned after another racer jumped into the water on top of him in April 2012 during a Tough Mudder race in West Virginia, Sengupta's family claimed in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Tough Mudder earlier this month.

The race promises to be "Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet," and has obstacles with names like "Fire in Your Hole," "Electric Eel" and "Arctic Enema."

Researchers examined emergency room visits following a Tough Mudder in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in a study published by the American College of Emergency Physicians in 2013, and reported that they encountered one Tough Mudder racer who received 13 electric shocks on the course, which caused heart inflammation. Another racer had a stroke and suffered temporary paralysis, according to the study.

Read about the other potential risks associated with obstacle races here.

Buike, a former paramedic who was participating in the Ohio race last weekend, told ABC News he was about to jump off the platform, when he noticed a rescue diver below who didn’t look right.

“I yelled down to see if he was OK,” Buike said, adding that a few other people followed suit. But the diver didn't answer.

When another lifeguard bumped the rescue diver with a flotation device and the diver still didn’t move, Buike said he sprang into action. He jumped off the platform, swam to the diver, and helped pull the man out of the water with help from three other people, he said.

“I wasn’t sure what was wrong with him at first,” he said. “As soon as we got him out of the water, the first thing you do is check for a pulse, and there wasn’t one.”

They started CPR, and cut the man’s wet suit off, Buike said. Soon, someone rushed over with a defibrillator, and another person began breathing for the diver with a mask attached to a squeezable bag called an AMBU bag, he said.

Once Tough Mudder personnel seemed to have the situation under control, Buike said he moved on and finished the race. That night, he learned that the man survived but was in critical condition. The rescue diver’s family passed on their gratitude through the Tough Mudder organization, he said.

Johnson said what happened at the Walk-the-Plank Obstacle was the result of a “personal health issue,” and “not an accident or injury on site.” The diver was also in a “buoyancy compensator device,” which kept his head above water the entire time, Johnson said.

“This type of medical incident could have occurred anywhere on course," Johnson said. "Tough Mudder is conducting an investigation, as is our protocol, and we remain deeply confident in the response from our expert medical staff on-site.”

At the time of Sengupta's death, Tough Mudder said Sengupta’s was “the first fatality in the three-year history of the company,” and that the event “was staffed with more than 75 ALS, EMT, paramedics, water rescue technicians and emergency personnel.”

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