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Floridians finish race as Irma strikes

September 11, 2017
By ANTONIO OLIVERO - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - About an hour after she finished the Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid on Sunday afternoon, Carolina Fuentes of Hallandale Beach, Florida, returned from a post-race meal to her tent at the Olympic Oval to show her daughter Maria the latest bad news back home.

On a calm, sunshine-filled Sunday here in Lake Placid, Carolina crouched under the shade of her tent to show Maria the destruction in Miami caused by Hurricane Irma.

The mother and daughter looked on in shock as Carolina showed Maria a video of downtown Miami's Brickell Avenue neighborhood, South Florida's major financial district, under several feet of water.

Article Photos

Maria Spuches Fuentes hugs her mother, Carolina Fuentes. Carolina completed the Ironman Lake Placid 70.3-mile triathlon Sunday afternoon around the same time Hurricane Irma struck Hallandale Beach, Florida, where the Fuentes live. (News photo — Antonio Olivero)

"My friends over there are sending me these videos," Carolina said. "That's from a high-rise. Second story!

"Up to the second floor, look at this," she continued. "That's the second story!"

"I went to school in Florida," Carolina added. "Even [1992's Hurricane] Andrew wasn't this bad."

The Fuentes digested the latest storm developments back home at around 4 p.m. Sunday. At that point, as the eye wall of the Category 3 storm battered Marco Island on the panhandle's west coast, due west of their Hallandale Beach home on the east coast, the Miami area the Fuentes live in suffered through torrential tropical rain bands.

The last Carolina had heard from back home was Saturday night, when she got a text that her home had lost power and family and friends were headed to a shelter.

"It's a mess," she said, "a mess. It's a little bit desperate."

Fuentes was one of 24 Floridians scheduled to participate in Sunday's inaugural ironman Lake Placid 70.3. But with the developments back home, many of the Floridians did not start the race.

Those who did, such as Sean Dotson of Bradenton, William Harrigan of Key Largo, Peter Fay of Englewood and Fuentes of Hallandale Beach set out to complete the grueling mountainous course with the events back home on their minds.

"I was talking to like five people from Florida on the course," Fuentes said. "By chance, somebody was like, 'I'm just trying to make this race and thinking about my house in Florida.'

That, and the 15 Ironman employees in town from Tampa - the location of the company's headquarters - put on the race with the knowledge that the worst of the storm was headed toward their homes. To help, Ironman Lake Placid Race Director Greg Borzilleri said he had made arrangements through Merrill Thomas Real Estate in Lake Placid to extend rentals if Ironman employees needed them.

Borzilleri added that with Ironman's 70.3 world championship in Chattanooga, Tennessee also on Sunday, not much communication was required with headquarters back in Tampa and, as a result, communication wasn't affected much.

"I spoke to people from Tampa, Sarasota [on the course]," Fuentes said, "the whole Ironman company is from Tampa. All of their families - and it is hitting right now, Tampa. Right now it is going into Naples. Everybody here is really worried."

Around the race's start time early Sunday morning, the center of the storm was situated just south of Key Largo. Between 3 and 4 p.m., when many people finished the race, including Fuentes, Harrigan and Dotson, the storm was churning up the panhandle's west coast straight for Dotson's hometown later Sunday evening.

"We are hoping people can at least relay messages," Dotson said after completing the race. "We talked to family [Saturday] night, and they said it was starting to get windy. They put out sandbags and closed the hurricane shutters, but all you can really do is just wait, and see what happens.

"We've gotten pieces of hurricanes [before]," he added, "but Sarasota has never been hit dead-on until now."

Dotson was one of about 10 members of Sarasota-area triathlon clubs, such as the Sarasota Storm Triathlon Club, who finished Sunday's race. His girlfriend Sarah Powers of Sarasota crossed the finish line a short time after Dotson.

Dotson and his fellow Floridians kept watch on the storm from their Main Street vacation rental throughout the week. The Weather Channel was on "24/7," he said, until they needed to take their minds off of all that was going on. So they went for a pre-race ride and swim.

Having experienced hurricanes and tropical storms before such as Elana, Andrew and Charley, Dotson said the initial choice to stay in Lake Placid for the race rather than to return home for the storm was a difficult one. His family members reassured him, though, that they'd take care of things, and he should take part in the race he worked hard to prepare for.

Still, after he crossed the finish line Sunday, a situation of uncertainty engulfed his immediate, and perhaps longterm, future.

"I'm supposed to go back Tuesday to help clean up," he said, "but if there's no power, I'm not sure."



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