It wasn't needed. Paula had already sprung to her feet, the violence of the prior moment unremembered. Her addled mind had entered a kind of dream state in which even the most bizarre and terrible happenings failed to surprise.
With less than 1 mile to go and less than 2 minutes of her lead intact, Paula stopped short and doubled over, arms dangling limply toward the seething asphalt, either stretching her hamstrings or perhaps making a gesture of confused surrender (or both). Just as suddenly, however, she righted herself and wheeled around, looking for Smyers.
It was a bizarre image: the leader and seven-time winner of the Ironman World Championship standing at a dead stop at the 140-mile mark of the 140.6-mile race, facing the direction she'd come. The alarmed driver of a motorcycle bearing an NBC cameraman urged Paula to continue.
"You got it!" he said.
"I got it?" she asked, pronouncing the words with a boozy inexactness.
She began to shuffle.
Paula was within sight of the last turn of the race when she pulled up once more, staggering as though she'd taken a stiff jab to the chin. Smyers was now right behind her. Paula raised her arms skyward as though beseeching the wondering throng of spectators lining the course to tell her what the hell was happening to her. At this moment, Smyers made the pass, placing a steadying hand on Paula's back in the moment of eclipse.
As Smyers dashed away toward her first Ironman victory, Paula took a few wobbly steps, then bent over with her hands on her knees.
"Come on, Paula!" the spectators shouted. "You can do it!"
Again she tried to walk. The crowd struck up a thundering chant of "Paul-a! Paul-a! Paul-a!"
It fell on deaf ears. Paula sat down on the curb and robotically removed her shoes and socks. A bottle of Gatorade was handed to her and she guzzled it.
Paula was soon encircled by race officials, medical personnel, and fans. Many were still urging her to get up and finish.
"Just wait!" she said, irritably.
Paula then slumped off the curb onto the road and lay flat on her back, arms spread wide.
Paul Huddle came sprinting from the temporary television studio that had been constructed at the finish area, where, three hours earlier, he had declared the inevitability of his girlfriend's victory. When he saw her now, his eyes widened in shock.
"Let's get an ambulance right now!" he shouted, his voice cracking. "Nine-one-one! Who's got a cellular?"
A woman standing close by produced one and handed it to Paul. "I think I'm going to die," Paula said as Paul struggled to make the zucchini-size device function.