L.A. cross country runners hospitalized for heat illness

Cameron Smith
October 1, 2010

When concerns arise about heat-related injuries, they usually focus on football. That makes sense; heavy pads, helmets and wind sprints can be a deadly combination in severe heat. Yet on Thursday, concerns about heat-related illness were thrown back into the spotlight in Los Angeles by a very different sport: cross country running.

According to the Associated Press, 10 Los Angeles-area teens were hospitalized on Thursday after competing in a cross country meet at Pierce College in Woodlands Hills, Calif. The conditions of the 10 hospitalized runners are still unknown.

Nearly 800 students took place in the multiple-school meet, and MyFoxLA.com later reported that 45 firefighters and eight ambulances had to be dispatched to the school to help care for runners battling potential heat stroke after running on the 3.1 mile course.

Now the Superintendent of L.A. public schools is demanding to know why the meet wasn't called off long before student athletes showed up to race. Temperatures near the course reached 97 degrees on Thursday, and all athletic activities had been canceled for a number of days earlier in the week because of record heat across the region. Superintendent Ramon Cortines insists that Thursday's meet should have been canceled as well.

"I think we know the Valley heats up," Cortines told the Los Angeles Times. "I would rather err on the side of caution. ...

"Even if it's 95, 94 or 93 [degrees], we need to err on the side of caution."

Meanwhile, some cross country coaches were actually blaming the heat problems on lack of training earlier in the week, when the area was even hotter.

"LAUSD has a little to blame because cross country is something you have to do on a daily basis," Birmingham Coach Scott King told the Los Angeles Times.

King and other coaches may have a point, too. Earlier this year, there was a football game played in 108 degree-heat in nearby Palm Springs, and no players suffered adverse effects during that game.

To that end, Belmont (Calif.) High School coach Jose Merino told the Times' Eric Sondheimer that all 30 of his runners competed without incident Thursday thanks to significant preparation and hydration for the event.

Here's what Merino told the L.A. Times:

"I told my kids, 'Don't worry too much about racing. Go over the course and have fun,' " he said. "Some were running, some were jogging."

Merino said he tells his runners every day to drink water and eat bananas.

"If a kid is hydrated the right way, they wouldn't have had these problems," he said.

Merino said he has a girl runner who hates fruit.

"Three days ago, I made her start eating fruit," he said. "She had no problems."

Regardless of who was to blame, 10 students were hospitalized. Given Southern California's record heat and the fallout from Thursday's meet, there may be more canceled events before the season ends.

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