On the blustery Sunday morning, an estimated 3,000 athletes competed in the AllState Life Insurance Fort Lauderdale 13.1 Half Marathon. From all fitness levels, the event is a symbol of human will power and commitment to a goal.
But for some, the race means so much more than just an active weekend.
Meet hand-crank wheelchair competitor Helman Roman.
The Colombian immigrant and current Miami Shores resident joined the National Guard shortly after the 9/11 attack in New York and volunteered to serve in Iraq. While his wife and two children remained in the United States, Roman began a yearlong tour in Iraq, where he provided security for military convoys, before shipping out to Afghanistan.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2009, an improvised explosive device rocked the vehicle Roman was commanding. The explosion shattered his legs, and resulted in numerous surgeries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
In a timely celebration of Veteran’s Day, Roman was the first to cross the finish line and the top competitor from the hand-crank wheelchair division on Sunday. Roman competes in marathons across the nation as a member of Achilles International, a rehab sports program for people with disabilities, with a focus on marathon achievement.
“I do marathons not much as a competitor or anything like that, but to encourage the new guys to see how it is: There is a life after the injury, it’s not just sitting down at the house and thinking about what you’re going to do, but getting out there and doing it,” Roman said.
Roman was joined in the winners circle by fellow wounded veteran, push-rim champion Tim Conner. Fort Lauderdale’s Even Dehart, 28, was the top male finisher with a time of 1:13:13.
Dehart still races in his same sneakers he bought for track season his junior year of high school in 2003.
The second- and third-place prizes were awarded to Miami Beach resident Bryan Huberty, 34, whose time was 1:15.4, and Bryan Sharkey (1:17.49), 26, of Miami. Huberty crossed the finish line in 1:15:4, and Sharkey followed in 1:17:49.
Guadalupe Merlos, 32, of Miami claimed first place among all female competitors with a time of 1:26:27. A former high school and collegiate track athlete, Merlos got back into running just a few years ago in 2011 to satisfy her naturally competitive nature. A participant in all eight of the AllState Half Marathon events, Sunday marked Merlos’ first win.
“I know I have something inside of me, and I just want to get it out, Merlos said. “I know I have a lot of potential.”
Lisa Cary, 29 of Eureka, Mo., took second among all females at 1:26:42, and Cristina Sabroso, 36, of Doral finished third with a time of 1:30:13. Cary, who is vacationing in Miami, signed up for the race on Saturday morning.
The strong headwinds were a detriment to all runners. But the incredible support from volunteers, friends, and even strangers along the course really provide the strength and motivation for runners.
Huberty received support from the high school cross-country runners he coaches at Miami Beach Hebrew Academy.
“The whole way back to have people cheering for me… from Mile 8 on, those last five miles, you really do need it,” said Huberty. “ I saw my kids at Mile 9, I was still keeping my cool, but when I saw them again at Mile 10, I was really fired up.”
“That last 5K is an important time for runners to feel that second wind,” Huberty added.
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