Almost 100 athlete volunteers and Ironman staff members gathered to be briefed on the day’s work in the Ingenio Barrio of Toa Baja.
Toa Baja suffered severe flooding during Maria and is located not far from the turn around on the bike course of the Ironman 70.3 Puerto.
Joining Carla Silva is Sarah Hartmann of the Ironman Foundation and U.S. Representative from Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema, who is a triathlete and advisor to Women for Tri. Athletes and other volunteers are greeted by Benardo Marque Garcia, Toa Baja Mayor. “Give Globally, Act Locally” really said it all for the day. Kyrsten Sinema welcomes the work group.
The volunteers meet with their location captains to be be briefed on the plan for the day. The entire Ingenio Barrio neighborhood has been without power since Sept. 20, 2017. Workers from the local power company were finishing up their work as IMF volunteers arrived. For the first time in six months, the power came on near the end of the day. In addition to the athlete and staff volunteers, community residents and family members came to help. Team 1 on their way to their location and ready to start.
Rosa is 102 years old and lives with her son. As the team cleaned, scraped paint, and painted, Rosa sat, smiled and softly sang songs while the work was done.
The roof had been blown off during Maria and had been replaced with new studs and a blue tarp to protect it from rain.
During the prior week, community and staff people cleaned out debris from the second floor. Rosa’s dog “Hurricane” greeted the team as they arrived. Rosa greeted Kyrsten Sinema, Sarah Hartmann, and Benardo Marque Garcia.
The blue tarp used by FEMA offered some protection. In the tradition of the Puerto Rican MLB great Roberto Clemente, the baseball field is a central focus of Ingenio Barrio. Hurricane Maria bent light poles and severely damaged the fences. A fresh coat of paint was on deck for Volunteer Day, as a gift for the entire community. Don Garcia lives alone and due to severe back problems hardly leaves his house. His yard is in disrepair and overgrown.
A few of the 11 volunteers that arrived in the morning to put in hard work with brooms, scrapers and paint. Don Hiram Trinidad Garcia was smiling and engaging with the volunteers all day. Scrapping and clean up work proceeded the paint.
Unfortunately not every home in the community could receive the attention of the Ironman Foundation Volunteer crew. Directly across the street from the Garcia home, the second floor roof has collapsed and doors and windows have been blown out. The home of Maria and Rafael needed the most attention. Twenty-four volunteers were assigned. Rafael had been the town cobbler, but is now bed ridden. In addition to the storm damage, years of debris had accumulated in the backyard. With the Ironman Foundation volunteers and staff working on the grounds and exterior, local volunteers were repairing the roof. A backyard storage building was destroyed by Hurricane Maria, with so much debris it was dangerous for anyone to help Maria and Rafael in maintaining their property.
By mid-morning, it was clear that a call to the City of Toa Baja had to be put in for help to haul away what had been cleared from the storm. Every home and every family is different. Although only nominal FEMA assistance had been available, some homes had help from extended families both in Puerto Rico and in the States. Puerto Rican pride was on display throughout the community. Maria Rivera has been slowly making repairs to her home. She now has a metal roof, but still no doors or interior ceiling. Don’t get a DQ – wear your helmet!.
Clean-up supplies, paint, rollers, and mostly elbow grease and amazing attitudes were the equipment of the day. A tri couple from Michigan worked on the fence as a team. The beauty of tropical Puerto Rico almost belies the horrific damage still beneath the layer of new leaves and flowers. Puerto Rico’s electrical infrastructure had been patched together over years and decades. Still six months after Hurricane Maria, 100,000 homes are without power.
The community of Ingenio Barrio finally received power to the entire neighborhood the evening of the Ironman Foundation work.
Nicole Geller, an Ironman staff member, had raced on Sunday and was giving back to the community with her two sons, all working on the baseball field. Six-time Ironman finisher and 10 year NFL Vet Don Davey addressed the volunteers during lunch at the Community Center. Friends from prior years, Jana and Karla, worked together for the day.
Ironman staff members first made sure the race went smoothly and then took the extra step to rebuild the community. City workers arrived to help with the large scale clean up of Maria and Rafael’s home. Smiles and spattering of paint for Tom. Midway through the day, the team leaders stopped back to see how 102-year-old Rosa was handling the stress of having 24 extra people in her home.
Rosa was still smiling and singing.
Almost unrecognizable from the morning, Maria poses for a group photo with her new friends.
The new wheelbarrow was purchased during the day. Although there was a wheelbarrow on site, the tire was so bad, after it was filled it couldn’t be rolled – just lifted. Someone made a quick decision and went and purchased a new one! Don Garcia takes a look at how much his home has improved during the day. A quick break for a photo opp.
For the last five months, a group of motorcyclists have been delivering water filtration and solar units to mountain communities that were otherwise inaccessible. Groups of four or five at a time, led by Kaki Rodriguez (blue cap in the center), would travel to the mountains every weekend. Their group became known as Yonomequito – I won’t quit.
Ironman Foundation contributed $1,000 to support their efforts. Kaki Rodriguez assembles a 5 gallon water filtration system for a resident of the Puente Blanco community. A coffee farm in Adjuntas was totally wiped out during the storm. Spray painted signs provide information for searchers on the status of families. One read: “Estamos en la casa proxima”- we are in the next house, and some like this one just say “Hello.”
Previously dense forest is now littered with the remnants of downed trees. With Puerto Rico’s stunning beaches, its mountains sometimes go unnoticed. Rising to 3,500 feet, the mountain villages had winds substantially higher than the 150 mph levels seen in San Juan. Washout roads made passage to some areas impossible for weeks and remain difficult six months later. Here an entire lane of the road is gone.
Three of the #yonomequito drivers came to support the Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico event on Sunday morning.
Almost six months to the day after the incredible devastation of the category 4 Hurricane Maria, the eighth edition of
Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico started in the early morning of the beautiful Condado Lagoon.
Storm damage was obvious throughout the day. The transition area had to move out of Sixto Escobar Stadium, where the exterior walls are now crumbling; the ocean view restaurant has been reduced to piles of used lumber; and the thinning of the lush tropical forest that now give unexpected ocean views.
The Ironman Foundation awarded $120,000 in grants to five local non-profit organizations to address long-term recovery needs in five areas: reforestation, water quality, solar power, hunger, and home restoration. Funding was raised by donations to the Humanitarian Relief Effort campaign including generous donations from New York Health & Racquet Club (NYHRC), Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation and NFL veteran Don Davey in conjunction with his fundraising efforts with the VIKTRE Challenge. The grantees were recognized at the Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico awards ceremony after the race.
The grantees are:
– Puerto Rico Conservation Trust: Funding to plant one million trees over the next 10 years.
– Corporation for the Conservation of the San Juan Bay Estuary: Funding to restore the water quality of the Condado Lagoon and associated ecosystems.
– Foundation for Puerto Rico: Funding to install solar power in two communities.
– Banco de Alimentos de Puerto Rico: Funding to support the food bank and feed those in need.
– Buena Vibra Foundation: Funding to replace roofs, rebuild homes and restore the community of Barrio Ingenio, including the Community Revitalization Volunteer Day on March 19.
In addition, Ironman Foundation provided $1,000 to #yonomequito (meaning I won’t quit), a group of motorcyclists who, since the storm, have been delivering water filtration and solar units to Puerto Rican mountain communities that were otherwise inaccessible.
All photos and words by Paul Phillips/Competitive Image/ @Compimagephoto.