SPOKANE, Wash., July 7. TWO years ago, Michael Veith helped his relay team set a national swimming record at age 55. On Sunday, August 3rd, Veith didn't finish his last race. He died about 125 yards short of the Medical Lake shoreline in the swimming leg of the Troika Triathlon.
"He was in the best shape of his life," said Larry Krauser, Veith's friend and swimming partner. "He went fast. He died doing something he loved to do."
The Spokane County medical examiner's office had an autopsy planned Monday, but those results were not available.
Veith, a Vietnam combat veteran, had founded his company, H2 Power Systems, which sought fuel-efficient and economical ways to provide power to homes through the use of hydrogen fuel cells. He and his wife of 36 years, Cristi, had lived in Spokane for the past three years, Krauser said. They had two sons. "She's taking it very hard," Krauser said of Cristi Veith. "They were very much in love and very much best friends."
Krauser and others don't believe that the 57-year-old Veith could have drowned. Every work day, he swam much farther with his Spokane Club Masters teammates than the 1.2-mile swim for the Troika.
He was a veteran of several open-water races. "The distance was not a problem," Krauser said. "Something else happened." Veith, who agreed to take a friend's place in the Troika race, finished seventh overall in the July 20 Steve Omi Race in Coeur d'Alene.
On Sunday, more than 280 racers competed in the Troika Triathlon. Veith's team was among about 30 that split the swimming, biking and running race into a relay.
Race spokesman Von Klohe said race officials were constantly scanning the water, especially as the racers neared the end of the 1.2-mile swim. Then someone spotted an "object" in the water about 125 yards from the shoreline. "We couldn't tell what it was with binoculars; we sent a swimmer to investigate." Once that swimmer reached the object, he quickly waved for help. "One of the support kayaks came to him, and headed into shore with Michael”, Klohe said. Firefighters and water rescue crews were on hand and immediately began CPR.
"They spent several minutes with him on the beach." While that was going on, his family was contacted and requested that he be transported to Deaconess Medical Center" Klohe said.
Cory Yost swam with Veith in the race. He also competed in the biking and running portions of the Troika. "When I crossed the finish line, I was told there had been an incident in the swim and someone had drowned," Yost said. He gathered his gear and learned from a fellow swimmer that the victim was Veith.
"Mike was a fabulous athlete, one of the top Masters swimmers in the country. It totally shocked me," Yost said. Veith is the only fatality in the 23-year history of the Troika.
Some of his fellow swimmers gathered Sunday night and shared memories of Veith. On Monday, the swimmers suspended their normal workouts at Witter Pool in Mission Park and swam eight, 300-meter intervals in honor of the date, 8-3, that Veith died.
"It was pretty tough," Yost said. "It was somewhat ironic that it was a workout that he really wouldn't have liked. He was a very good sprinter."
Veith hadn't signed up for the race Sunday. He stood in for a friend, Barclay Klingel, who was sick. Klingel first asked Krauser, but he declined because he is taking aim at a Masters world record in an upcoming meet. Veith was happy to oblige Klingel's request, said Krauser, who now feels bad that he didn't take the race. "But if it didn't happen this weekend, it might have happened in the next one," he said.
Friends and teammates will gather at 6 p.m. Friday for a memorial. "Mike was such a great guy. He always had a smile," Krauser said. "He certainly leaves part of himself with all of us."