Robert Ray, triathlete, dies at 54
By CANDACE RONDEAUX, Times Staff Writer
Suddenly, he grabbed the lane rope.
"The lifeguard leaned down, said 'Robert Ray are you okay?' And he said 'no,' and he just fell in the water face first," said Ray's wife, Rose Marie.
A few minutes later, Ray died of a heart attack.
On Wednesday, relatives and friends recalled Tuesday's events as they remembered the well-known triathlete and co-owner of the popular Mansion House Bed and Breakfast.
Witnesses say three lifeguards pulled Ray from the pool about 6:50 p.m., seconds after he fell unconscious. Mario Abadal, North Shore's recreation supervisor, said lifeguards Amy Williams, Wes Bryan and Gayle Barko gave him CPR.
Abadal said Albert Taylor, a friend who was swimming alongside Ray, assisted Bryan with chest compressions as the two lifeguards monitored Ray's vital signs and a portable breathing device.
Lisa Kashak, vice president of the St. Pete Mad Dogs triathletes club, to which Ray belonged, had just stepped out onto the pool deck for the triathletes' Tuesday class when she saw Ray pulled out.
She said the four minutes that lifeguards spent trying to revive Ray while they waited for rescuers to arrive "seemed like forever."
Dozens of youngsters at the pool for Special Olympics training classes watched as rescuers attempted to revive Ray.
He was taken to St. Anthony's Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. He never regained consciousness.
Last year, Ray made the top five in St. Petersburg's American Association of Retired Persons Tri-Umph Triathlon. He used to train alongside his son, Ian, 26, a member of the U.S. triathlon team.
He was at North Shore on Tuesday to train for an upcoming triathlon at Fort De Soto.
Ray was one of the St. Pete Mad Dogs' most active members. Just this spring he hosted athletes from France, Germany and New Zealand for St. Anthony's Triathlon.
But recently he had been diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, Mrs. Ray said. Heart trouble runs in his family. His brother, Barton, just had bypass surgery, and his father had died of a heart attack.
Ray was an Air Force veteran and served in Vietnam between 1966 and 1970. Before he met his wife in New York City, he had lived in Brazil for most of his life. He was fluent in Portuguese and French. They married shortly after he was discharged from the Air Force.
In 1995, after running his own remodeling business in Dallas for 20 years, Ray and his family moved to St. Petersburg and opened their bed and breakfast at 105 5th Ave. NE. "It was a big change," Mrs. Ray said.
Ray relied on his love of exercise to make friends in his new home. He was a mentor to a 9-year-old boy and helped the boy train for his first triathlon. "He was always helping people. Everyone knew him down there (at the pool)," Mrs. Ray said.
The couple were training together for their first team triathlon just days before Ray died.
Ray's family will hold a memorial service at Mansion House on Saturday afternoon.
"He died doing what he loved best: swimming and exercising," Mrs. Ray said.
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