Equipment, training aided water rescue

Published May 1, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - From the seat of a water scooter, Bob Jones looked across Tampa Bay and saw two bad signs: A swimmer who seemed unresponsive, and a lifeguard furiously paddling toward her.

Jones, a St. Petersburg police officer who normally rides a motorcycle, blew his whistle and steered the WaveRunner to the swimmer, where three lifeguards helped with the rescue.

"I could see at that point she was bluish-purple, " Jones said.

For the St. Anthony's Triathlon, Sunday marked the second year in a row that organizers and volunteers scrambled to deal with a life-threatening situation. Last year, race team members were nearly overwhelmed by worsening weather and choppy seas that left dozens of triathletes exhausted, panicked, and needing rides back to shore.

Volunteers this year expressed deep sorrow for the emergency that befell Juli Wilson Marshall, a Chicago attorney and married mother of four. Marshall, 48, entered the race through Team in Training, a program that raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. It's still not clear what caused her to become unconscious during the 0.93 mile swim.

She had no pulse as Clearwater city lifeguards, St. Petersburg Fire Rescue medics and others worked to revive her. Her pulse returned while she was in the ambulance en route to Bayfront Medical Center.

But several volunteers said they believed new equipment and improved training helped them respond swiftly, as they raced to save Marshall's life.

The St. Petersburg Police Department WaveRunner was one of two purchased last summer, which allowed rescuers to maneuver between other swimmers more safely than with a motorboat. Lifeguards also worked quickly to lift Marshall onto a "life sled" attached to the WaveRunner, another recent purchase designed for just this kind of event, said Officer Les Miller.

Gil Peri, director of business development and clinical services at St. Anthony's Hospital, said the race's safety team included 21 lifeguards on rescue boards, three WaveRunners, five boats, various paramedics and 25 kayakers.

"We strive to put on the safest race possible, and we're concerned for her well being, "' Peri said.

Steve Bowen, managing partner of the Chicago branch of the law firm where Marshall works, calls her "an outstanding lawyer" and "a completely nice person, very open, helpful, no agendas."

Marshall trained for several months with Team in Training, which sent 52 participants to the triathlon, along with two coachers and 10 mentors, said Nancy Klein, a vice president for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. She also completed a 100-mile bicycle ride through the program last year and was considered very fit, Klein said.