Javier Hernandez, a club swimmer for SouthWest Aquatics in Winter Garden, was in Mexico City to compete when the 7.1 magnitude quake occured.
Javier Hernandez was practicing in one of the auxiliary pools when it happened.
In Mexico City for the 2017 World Para Swimming Championships in September, Hernandez first sensed something was amiss when, while swimming on his back, he noticed the lights overhead moving.
“I thought that was strange, but I ignored it,” Hernandez said. “Then the lights starting turning off, and when I got my head up, I saw my coach just yelling, ‘Get out!’ And then once I was out of the pool, I saw the water moving like crazy.”
Hernandez, 17, was experiencing the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that rocked Mexico City Sept. 19.
A club swimmer for SouthWest Aquatics in Winter Garden, Hernandez had qualified earlier this year to represent Puerto Rico at the games. In what was supposed to have been the realization of a dream to compete on an international stage, it instead became a chaotic experience as the swimmers who were practicing were ushered out of the pool and out of the building, many wearing only their swimwear.
Fortunately for Hernandez and the competitors, the location of the championships relative to the earthquake was far enough that they were not in the kind of danger others experienced. Once officials had inspected their hotel for structural damage, the competitors were allowed to return to their rooms. The championships were postponed the next day.
It was certainly a close call for Hernandez, but the scare affected his mother, Nivia Rodriguez, the worst.
Rodriguez was to scheduled to join her son in Mexico City the next week, closer to the beginning of competition (athletes arrived earlier than usual for the competition to acclimate to the change in altitude). Although the coach Hernandez had traveled with had called Rodriguez in the moments after and assured her everything was OK, it was hard to accept that while watching the news.
“The coach told me, ‘It’s not a bad situation,’ and (the kids) were fine,” Rodriguez recalled. “A few minutes later, I saw in the news all the images, and I thought, ‘What is going on?’”
Luckily, the coach’s words rung true and, once the airport reopened two days later, Hernandez flew home.
Now he’s back at work at SouthWest Aquatics under the tutelage of coach Justin Correia. Hernandez admits the experience gives him pause about traveling to compete but also said he plans to return to Mexico City in late November/early December, the rescheduled dates for the championships.
“When I started swimming, I would never in my life have thought that I would be able to compete in international competition,” Hernandez said. “A couple years after that, it happened.”