Snap, crackle, pop -- three sounds no one wants a knee joint to make in a 7.46-mile race. At mile 6 of Sunday's Bloomsday run, 21-year-old Grace Daly heard them all as her right kneecap slid to the side of her leg.
"There was a pop and then it was like, owie!" Daly said, resting in a wheelchair at the finish line first-aid tent. "I didn't think I could do it, but my friend Elizabeth said, `You've got to finish."'
The Rathdrum, Idaho, woman did finish, by riding 19-year-old Elizabeth Montgomery piggyback, and then slinging her arm over the teen's shoulder for the last few blocks.
And at the first-aid tent, Daly found dozens of people just like her who somehow made it over the finish line despite their failing bodies.
With 21 cots on hand and nary one to spare, the army-green Sacred Heart Hospital tent looked like a MASH tent. The overflow of patients was routed to a tent staffed by Valley Hospital and Medical Center. There were overheated runners packed in ice, dehydrated runners receiving fluids intravenously, runners with dangerously high blood pressure, runners disoriented and vomiting.
"People want to finish, they want that T-shirt," said Eric Melone, a Sacred Heart emergency room worker on hand for the Bloomsday run.
It's the last first-aid tent that receives the lion's share of Bloomsday's hard cases, medical workers say, most of which come in the first 90 minutes. The first casualty of the day sprinted across the finish line in 38 minutes, handed a volunteer his race tag, then collapsed like a wet noodle just as medics placed a stretcher underneath him.
Twenty minutes after the first collapse, Gonzaga chemistry professor Jeff Cronk made his way across the finish line in, he thinks, somewhere under an hour, and then was carried 30 yards to the medical tent by volunteers. His temperature was 106 degrees. He emerged from the tent 90 minutes later soaked in ice water and sporting an IV mark on his left elbow.
"Some of the people in there were delirious. They didn't know what was going on," Cronk, 48, said. "I was lucid."
Cronk knew that in order to finish the race in an hour, he would have to run 8-minute miles.
He was on time when he checked his watch with two miles to go, but the end of the race was a little sketchy.
For Christina Vensel, things began falling apart after the first mile when she badly sprained her right ankle. She skipped the next five miles then dragged her injured leg the rest of the way.
"I just said, `OK, Christina, use your brain cells and figure this one out. How are you going to finish this race?"' Vensel said.
The 31-year-old Spokane Public Schools lunch lady actually beat her previous time, finishing in 1:21. Of course, last year she finished on sprained ankles.
"Not too bad for not training," she said.