By Max McCombs, Reno Gazette-Journal, June 2, 2012

Several years ago, a woman suffered an asthma attack near the finish line of the Reno-Tahoe Odyssey relay race. Fortunately, race director Eric Lerude was standing nearby. Even more fortunately, so was a team of firefighters that had just completed the race.

Lerude motioned to the firefighters, and within seconds all 12 of them were tending to the woman, making sure she was OK.

A handful of emergency-trained teams run in the race every year, and Lerude is glad that they do.

“It gives me as race director a lot of peace of mind to know we have teams out there who are all trained in first aid and in dealing with all kinds of situations,” Lerude said.

The Reno-Tahoe Odyssey, a 178-mile relay race that started in Reno on Friday, winds along the shores of Lake Tahoe, through Carson and Virginia City and back to Reno. Teams are expected to cross the Idlewild Park finish line throughout the day today.

This year, a pair of local law enforcement teams are among the 249 teams running in the relay. Team “Running Hog Wild” is made up primarily of Sparks Police Department employees, but also includes retired officers from several area agencies and a REMSA worker. Team “WCSO – I’ll Tase You Bro!” is entirely comprised of Washoe County Sheriff’s Office employees and competes in the corporate division.

Both teams have run the race before. The Sparks team has assisted with asthma attacks and broken ankles before, while the sheriffs have yet to encounter such a situation. When the time comes, though, their team captain says there will be no hesitation.

“There is no doubt in my mind that if something came about, that everybody would act immediately and appropriately to the situation,” Marc Bello, captain of the sheriff’s team, said. “Any one of us would stop immediately to help out.”

But these scenarios are not what bring these teams to the race.

“It’s a fun adventure,” Mike Keating, captain of the Sparks police team, said. “It builds camaraderie.”

Lerude recognizes this and does not rely on these teams for formal medical assistance, should runners need it. REMSA is contracted by the Odyssey to provide needed services.

“We have a lot of security measures in place,” Lerude said. “These teams are out there to have fun. I don’t rely on these teams.”

Neither team conducts formal practices before the relay. The nature of their jobs necessitates a certain level of fitness. Each individual has his or her own way of staying fit for both the job and the race. At most, Keating said, his team’s members will add a few longer runs to their regimen in the lead-up to the race.

“People use running as a way to stay fit for the job,” Bello said. “Events like this are pretty high demanding. They help us keep in shape for the duties for the job.”

As an open division team, the Sparks group competes primarily for the experience and the team-building.

“Most of it is for fun,” Keating said. “We’re just trying to go out there and challenge ourselves as a team and as individuals. We’re not out there to try and beat other teams. It’s more to finish together as a team.”

The sheriffs enjoy the camaraderie as well, Bello said, but also have a reputation to uphold. Their goal each year is to win their division, which they have done in three of the last five races. They also have a friendly annual rivalry with a team from the NDOT.

“We come out hoping and expecting to win the corporate division,” Bello said. “We’re always striving for a top-10 finish overall. As the field increases, it becomes more and more competitive… A lot of it is personal pride to want to do well, but it is nice to have our team name at the top of our division.”

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