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Nicole Erato was racing to represent her country, the Caribbean island of St. Martin. Now she’s racing to save it.
Nicole Erato was talking to her mom on the phone early Wednesday morning when Hurricane Irma hit her home country, the small Caribbean island of St. Martin. “My mom was yelling at my dad because he was trying to close the front door that had blown in, and windows all around them were breaking because of the pressure,” Erato says. Then the phone went dead.
Erato watched in disbelief as photos of the devastation began to populate the news. Pictures of the island’s Princess Juliana Airport—famous for its proximity to the beach, where sunbathers can feel the jet blasts—showed it was completely destroyed. Homes had been reduced to rubble. Deaths began to be reported. Erato had no way to get home, no way to contact friends and family.
The 26-year old traveled from a training trip in Maine to Chattanooga, Tenn. on Tuesday to compete in the 70.3 World Championships. She qualified at 70.3 Puerto Rico in March with a fourth-place age group finish in 5:20:13. Erato raced her first triathlon in 2015 and loved the challenge, opting to go long early on, competing in her first 70.3 in 2016.
Getting her to Worlds this weekend was a community effort, with family, friends, and businesses across the 37-square mile island—including the Princess Juliana Airport—pitching in to help the promising young triathlete race in Chattanooga.
“It’s really difficult right now because a lot of those businesses and people that contributed to her being here now have nothing,” says her on-island coach, Cayley Mackay. (Erato also works with U.S.-based coach, Scott Layton.) “A lot of the sponsors we still haven’t heard from.”
Erato finally got through to her family today. “The first time I was able to hear my mom’s voice was this morning at 10 a.m.,” she says. She is grateful her family survived, but devastated for her island. She’s racing tomorrow in the hope that her story will bring more attention to what’s happened there so people will help relief efforts in any way they can. “Our goal is to spread the message that St. Martin needs help,” Mackay says.
“It’s super hard to carb-load and eat when I’m worried that my family and the people in my country aren’t going to be able to eat—or just have clean drinking water and a roof over their head,” Erato says. “I have to remind myself that I’m racing for a way bigger reason than myself—I’m racing for my entire nation.”
To donate to relief efforts in St. Martin, go to Rebuildsxm.com.
Erato will be racing on a Trek Speed Concept, purchased with help from her community, and painted to resemble her country’s flag. She’ll be wearing bib number 1539.
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