Tricia Fleming was a little more than 150 meters offshore when she heard the spluttering.
Lake Monona was calm that afternoon, but add nearly 78 bodies all swimming the same path — plus just enough seagrass to startle — and the once-placid water turns frothy with churn and confusion.
Fleming, a paramedic for Muskogee County in Oklahoma, was stationed on a Dane County Sheriff patrol boat near the course for the masters competition’s Event 5: a 300-m open-water swim. Athletes across multiple age divisions shared the water with slightly staggered start times; lifeguards and medical staff were stationed on paddleboards along the course.
But at that moment, the paddleboards were at capacity, and no one else seemed to see Ted Leger’s blue swim-capped head bobbing above and below the surface.
“That’s when I saw it in his eyes,” Fleming recalled. “And I looked at him and heard him yell, ‘Help!’”
“He was going down.”
Fleming has been volunteering at the CrossFit Games since 2017, although this is her first year on the medical team. It’s the second for her fellow medical-staff volunteer, firefighter Ricardo Roman, who was on the team in 2019.
“You don’t realize until you’re in this room — this is like a moving hospital, and it’s seamless,” Roman said of the medical-staff areas at the CrossFit Games, noting there’s even an X-ray room in the Coliseum. “The amount of attention to detail, from doctors to sports medics to firemen, they cover all the bases.”
Both volunteers have dedicated their careers to helping people and saving lives, and although they hope they never need to use their skills at the CrossFit Games, if they do, they’re ready — partially thanks to the CrossFit methodology itself.
“We have to be physically fit, and it needs to be pushed more in the first-responder community to be fit so you can protect yourself and then go home to your family,” said Fleming, who trains at CrossFit Pryor Creek.
“It’s true fight or flight,” he said. Roman serves with the New York City Fire Department and has been doing CrossFit since 2010. He’s also president of the FDNY Barbell Club, dubbed “The Official CrossFit Team of the FDNY.”
Fleming didn’t hesitate.
As soon as she heard Leger’s coughs and cries, she leapt into the murky water, about 20 feet deep at that point. Her life vest inflated on impact; she unstrapped it, tossed it to Leger, and swam to his aid.
“We’ve got you. You’re fine. You’re gonna be OK,” she told him.
From the boat, Roman tossed the pair a floatation device tethered to a long rope and towed them in. Leger took some time to recover, and by the time they docked, he was steady enough to walk back to land unassisted. He was released after passing a vital-signs check.
For onlookers and athletes, it was an act of heroism.
For Fleming and Roman, it was just a day on the job.
“These athletes work hard all year long, and we look at them as role models for us, being in CrossFit,” Fleming said. “To be able to give back to them is amazing.”