Two men who were competing in a Wisconsin Ironman 70.3 triathlon over the weekend both sadly died in what officials are calling a “tragic coincidence.”
Todd Mahoney and Michael McCulloch died on Sunday while competing in the swim portion of the three-part race, according to the Madison Fire Department, who treated the athletes during the “separate emergencies.”
Mahoney, 38, an apparatus engineer with the Madison Fire Department, and McCulloch, 61, a longtime director of Meat, Deli, and Bakery at Certco Inc., were rescued from Lake Monona by fire officials and transported to SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital.
Fire officials said McCulloch was pronounced dead at the local hospital, but Mahoney, who was rescued at 8:52 a.m., remained in critical condition and “fought for his life over the next 48 hours” until Tuesday when he sadly passed away.
Their bodies were later identified by the Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office, who have been conducting forensic autopsies since Monday.
In a press release obtained by PEOPLE, the medical examiner said McCulloch’s death “was consistent with an accidental drowning due in part to a medical event.” Results from Mahoney’s autopsy have not yet been announced.
Additional testing is currently being performed by the medical examiner and both their deaths remain under investigation by Dane County Sheriff’s Office and the Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office.
City of Madison Fire Department
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The Ironman 70.3 is a three-part race that includes a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run. Sunday’s event in Madison kicked off at 7 a.m. and was scheduled to wind down with an awards ceremony by 4 p.m., according to their website.
Shortly after news of the men’s deaths, race officials issued a statement on Sunday where they reiterated the importance of their competitors’ safety and well-being.
“The well-being of our competitors is paramount and we are grateful for the effort and quick support of medical personnel,” Ironman said in a statement, obtained by WKOW.
“We will continue to work with the local authorities to gather all the details on these incidents and will continue to do everything possible to provide a safe environment for our athletes,” race officials continued. “In respect of the families and athletes privacy, we will have no further comment at this time.”
Ironman tells PEOPLE in a statement, “During the swim portion of Sunday’s IRONMAN 70.3 Wisconsin, two race participants required medical assistance in separate and unrelated incidents that resulted in their transport to a nearby Madison hospital where they later passed away.”
“The entire IRONMAN team and community are profoundly saddened by the passing of both athletes,” the statement continues. “We mourn with their families and friends whom we will continue to support.
“We are thankful for the quick action taken by medical personnel on race day and remain committed to working with the local authorities in providing the safest environment possible for our athletes,” Ironman adds.
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On Tuesday, Madison’s Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway issued a statement in which she expressed her condolences over the loss of the two men.
“My thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the two athletes who died while competing in the Half Iron Man on Sunday,” Rhodes-Conway wrote. “We know that in the past this, and other Madison athletic events, have been safe and fun competitions for both participants and their families.”
“It is a tragic coincidence that two men died competing in the same event,” she continued. “I know that the investigation into these incidents will continue, and we look forward to assuring that all proper safety precautions are in place for this event and others throughout the summer and year.”
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Mahoney, a native of Reedsburg, was a nine-year veteran of the Madison Fire Department and became a firefighter in 2010, according to his former employers.
Before working as an apparatus engineer at Fire Station 1 and an occasional chief’s aide for Command Car 31, he served as a paramedic at Fire Station 8. Mahoney is survived by his wife and their three young sons, according to the fire department.
In McCulloch’s obituary, the Cottage Grove resident was remembered for his love of staying active through triathlon, biking, ballroom dancing and hiking, and his ability to leave an impact on everyone he crossed paths with.
“He touched the lives of so many through his family, friends, work, and hobbies,” his family wrote. “His one-liners would bring raucous laughter to a group, while his empathy and compassion one-on-one was genuine and comforting.”
McCulloch leaves behind his wife Lisa and their daughter Erin, in addition to his extended family and siblings.
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