"Puerto Rico is going to raise itself up:" Athlete from Puerto R - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

"Puerto Rico is going to raise itself up:" Athlete from Puerto Rico competes in Head of the Hooch

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

Like many other sports, rowing is tough.

"There are no days off in rowing," explained competitor Mario Mihalik.

Athletes put in hours of practice for the Head of the Hooch competition, and were up before the sun to compete.

“About 4:30 in the morning,” explained Mihalik, “But that's normal for a rower."

Roughly 9,000 athletes came to Chattanooga from 30 states and three countries to compete.

For some athletes, this rowing competition is a way to forget about the stress of life.

"It’s tough, but I’m happy that we're still able to compete,” Mihalik said, “And that we're doing our best, and that we don't give up."

Mihalik said his team doesn’t give up, and neither will the place they call home.

"Puerto Rico is going to raise itself up," he urged.

Mihalik competes with Club Nautico of San Juan which is in Puerto Rico.

It's been over a month since Hurricane Maria tore through the island. The hurricane knocked out power and destroying homes. Much of the island is still in the dark, and recovery efforts are far from over.

For Mihalik, leaving home to go to competitions is tough.

On top of personal stress from the hurricane, the team has not been able to practice like normal.

Mario said the bays and lagoons where the team trains are contaminated, so they are forced to practice only on land.

"We've just been doing a lot of dry work on land and running,” Mihalik explained, “So, it's been quite tough."

But Mihalik and his team are pushing through. He said they are using rowing as a way to raise awareness, and take a break from the stress brought on by Hurricane Maria.

"You just lose focus on everything else,” Mihalik explained, “Just focus on rowing. It just takes out the stress."

Mario came in 5th place today in the men's singles.

The team will be heading back to Puerto Rico over the next few days.

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