Racer 1313 faced a bigger challenge than he signed up for

Words and photos by Cherish Whyte


More than 1,200 athletes gathered at Lake San Antonio near Bradley, Calif., on May 5, to compete in the Wildflower Long Course Triathlon, which includes a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run.

Shortly before sunrise at the 2018 Wildflower Triathlon Long Course on May 5, my husband Chris Whyte posted this on his Facebook page: “First race in over five years and guess what number I get? 1313. That’s right … Two negatives make a positive!”

Luck was definitely on Chris’ side that morning as he faced a life-threatening situation on the course.

Having been sidelined from triathlon races due to patellar tendonitis, Chris was healed and ready to tackle one of the hardest triathlon courses in the country at Lake San Antonio near Bradley, CA. Wildflower, considered the “Woodstock of Triathlon,” was also back in action after a one-year hiatus due to drought, and the mood was electric. Nearly 5,000 athletes and 20,000 spectators attended three-day festival, which features long-course, Olympic, sprint and mountain bike events. The long-distance event is considered the crème de la crème among serious triathletes, and this year’s event drew more than 1,200 eager competitors.


Chris was looking strong at the start of the bike leg. The 56-mile bike course winds along Interlake, Jolon and Nacimiento Lake roads with a grueling elevation gain of nearly 3,700 feet.

With serious elevation gains of nearly 3,700 feet, temperatures near 90 degrees, and countless potholes on the bike course, the race is intimidating for anyone, and my 53-year-old husband was no exception. He is a six-time Kona Ironman qualifier and competitor, with 16 full Ironman races under his belt, but this year his goal was to qualify for the 2019 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Nice. Wildflower is not a qualifying race, but he knew if he could place top five in his age group on this grueling course, qualifying at his next half Ironman race in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland, on August 19 would be cake.

He tackled the 1.2-mile swim in just under 32 minutes, and was 3.5 miles into the 56-mile bike course when he struck a vicious pothole that jolted his neck and caused the pads on his aerobars to drop. He continued biking for another 30 miles when he lost his right peripheral vision and all feeling in his right arm. At this point, he became alarmed and stopped to ask a volunteer for help, then collapsed.

Then began a string of escalated emergency steps that took Chris by ambulance to Twin Cities Hospital in nearby Templeton, then by helicopter to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. On call was a renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Alois Zauner, who saved my husband’s life. Zauner diagnosed Chris with a dissection and ensuing clot of the left carotid artery. He removed the clot and repaired the torn artery with two stents. After four days in the hospital running tests to make sure there was no further danger of blood clots in the brain, Chris is now home and thankful to be alive. He’s sidelined from the sport yet again, but he thanks his lucky 1313 race number that he was at Wildflower when this happened and not on a solo bike ride in the middle of nowhere.

EDITOR’S UPDATE We’re happy to hear that Chris is doing well and his long term outlook is fine. Cherish reports, “We’ve been going on long walks, and all is good. He can do light jogs in two weeks, always paying attention to what his body is telling him.” Sending good vibes for Chris to be back in shape for the competitions he so loves in the future!

ABOUT WILDFLOWER Wildflower is known all over the world for its festival-like atmosphere, challenging courses and some of the most energetic collegiate volunteers. It has been named “The Woodstock for Triathlon,” “The Best of the Best,” “Triathlon Back to the Basic Roots,” “Elites Favorite Race,” and more. It’s the “One and Only” Wildflower as there is nothing else like it in the world. wildflowerexperience.com


Elite athletes start the Wildflower Long Course Triathlon at 7 a.m. on May 5 at Lake San Antonio. Last year’s event was canceled due to drought conditions at the venue.


Heather Jackson, 34, of Bend, Ore., was 8th out of the water in the women’s elite division, but pulled ahead on the bike and run, taking first with a time of 4:34:46.


Race day for Rodolphe “Rudy” von Berg, 25, of Boulder, Colo., ended on a high note, with an official time of 4:00:41 in the men’s elite division.


Lucky racer number 1313 had a scare, but thanks to Wildflower volunteers, emergency responders, and the staff at Twin Cities and Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, Chris will race again.

SLO RunCherish Whyte is a freelance writer based in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and Sammamish, Wash. She loves running, hiking, climbing, skiing and traveling.