XTERRA Competitor Spreads Tribe Spirit in Puerto Rico
On Friday, September 8th, XTERRA Puerto Rico race director (and XTERRA Competitor himself), David Velez, drove from his home in San Juan to the east coast to set up for his race. The course was marked, awards were ready, and the Gatorade had arrived. The only problem was that Hurricane Irma was also on the scene, damaging most of the Atlantic coast and lashing Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
"Right after the race, we started to get text messages about Hurricane Maria," said Velez, who owns a bike shop called Ciclo Pedal in San Juan. "On Monday, when we went back to San Juan, the chaos had already started with people lining up at gas stations. Most people are prepared and can afford a generator, but we were not prepared for back to back hurricanes."
When Maria hit, 60,000 in Puerto Rico were still lacking electricity from the damage Irma caused, and the government was running out of money. Velez considers himself lucky to have a generator, which he turns on for a few hours in the morning and at night. He attaches an extension cord, which he slides under his neighbor's door, so they can run their fridge for a little while too.
"The supermarkets lack food right now, so we help each other," says Velez. "We have a lot."
What Velez considers "a lot" is beans, rice, some fruit, and batteries to run his fan for a few hours to try to stir up a breeze in the tropical heat.
"The first few nights most of us slept with machetes under our pillows," he says with a laugh. "I am only laughing because I never thought of doing that before. But it was so dark that anyone could come into your house. I hid my bicycles and merchandise at the back of the store. "
Velez adds that most of the crime was caused by people looking for gas, food, and generators. Now that a few lights are back on in a building next to his house, he is less worried. And he marvels that while he and his wife are losing patience, his 14 month old daughter remains full of joy.
But this is small comfort against an island that has been destroyed. Because many roads are impassible, those who live in the mountains are stranded, and no food, water, or diesel fuel can get to them yet. There are still long lines at the gas station and supermarkets have no meat and are rationing groceries. Velez's father hasn't received his latest pension checks because the government is out of money, and David's wife, who is an attorney, has lost many clients who have jumped on a Jet Blue flight. Velez's bicycle shop is also suffering, but he remains open for customers who are fixing up old bikes to get around town.
"I can't complain because 90 percent of the island lost everything," he says soberly. "We probably won't have electricity in San Juan for a few more months, but people in the mountains may have to wait eight months or more to have power."
To be without power for one month is difficult; to not know when it will return must be excruciating.
"Help is not getting here the way it should be," said Velez. "The logistics for food delivery and supplies is more difficult than expected. We have a lot of mountains and rural roads that are really difficult to reach under this circumstances. People have to find a way to get food to them."
Velez has been competing in XTERRA events since 2003 and has raced in Puerto Rico, Barcelona, Utah, and Maui. In 2015, he was 119th at the XTERRA World Championship. Now, he is forming his own tribe.
"When I was a kid, I knew all of my neighbors and it's like that again," Velez explains. "We are the only house with a generator so all the kids come here and charge their phones. I put things in my fridge. There is no internet, no power, no cable TV. It’s been a nice community effort. We have been able to get to the human side and forget about technology that separates us."