Swimmers stuck after Florida airport shooting


Swimmers stuck after Florida airport shooting

Noah Cloonan

Murphy’s Law is the old adage that states, “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” and no one knows that better than the Ashland University swimming and diving team.

Both the men and women’s swimming and diving teams spent the final week of their Christmas break down in Florida soaking up the sun and practicing their craft before the second half of the season.

They trained twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, with a dry land workout in between. Friday came around and the time had come for the team to begin their trip home; that was until tragedy struck the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport early in the day.

Esteban Santiago, 26, opened fire in the baggage claim area killing five and leaving many others wounded.

This massacre occurred just a day before the AU swimming and diving team was to fly out of that very same airport.

As a result, the airport was shut down and the team was stuck in Florida. The team found out about the shooting on Friday afternoon just before their final practice.

“It was right before our afternoon practice and I mean honestly its such a tragedy to hear something like that happened, you know to hear about another shooting in general,” junior Patrick Mikal said.

It was a somber mood at practice and after  the team got together on what they thought would be the final night of their trip.

“Later in the evening we had a bonfire and we were closing out our training trip or so we thought,” junior swimmer Zoe Scarpone said, “And so Ron [Allen], our head coach had told us this is what is happening and our flight has been cancelled and he really tried to make us look at the big picture and he said five people lost their lives that day and that’s something that’s hard to relate to but it really hit home to us because everything was affected by it.”

The closure of the airport brought even more challenges for the team as they had to scramble to try and find another flight out of Florida.

Mikal said that Allen spent all night on the phone reaching out to multiple companys trying to get his team back home. After an afternoon practice on Saturday, Allen announced that he had found a flight for 20 from Fort Myers to Boston. This was a problem as there were 29 swimmers on the trip to go along with the two coaches that traveled with the team.

This problem was avoided, however, as they flight to Boston was cancelled because of severe weather in Boston. Shortly after the team found out that they were going to be stuck until at least Tuesday.

The team was very thankful that they were able to get unscheduled pool times on Sunday and Monday so that they not lose all of the progress that they had made the week prior.

Tuesday arrived and the team was up in the early hours of the morning getting ready for their departure to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

They arrived at the airport at 6 a.m. and awaited their flight that was scheduled to leave at 7:40 a.m.

Shortly before boarding it was announced that their flight had been delayed until 10:30 a.m.  

They all settled back into their seats to await their new departure time, but at 9 a.m. a voice came over the loudspeaker and announced that Cleveland had shutdown their airport due to inclement weather and for the third time the swim team’s flight had been cancelled.

“At one point, I just saw Josh Nixon, another swimmer, just slide down in his seat, it was just defeat,” Mikal said. “It’s one of those things that you knew there was a chance for it to happen but we honestly did not think that our flight would be cancelled for the third time.”

Once again Coach Allen was forced to scramble to try and get his team onto another flight.

“It was a series of unfortunate events and it was pretty much they gave us the worst case scenario and then it happened,” Scarpone said.

Meanwhile the airport was full of 29 college students who had already missed the first two days of classes of the new semester and who were now stuck in the airport all day.

The team made their time count in the airport and chose to have a good attitude about their situation.

They made a video of themselves swimming through the airport and the video has over 55,000 views on Facebook and can be found on the Ashland University Athletics Facebook page.

“We just made the best of the situation and we had so much fun as a team, I think, just bonding more, just having that time together,” Scarpone said.

The training trip allowed the Eagles to focus solely on their swimming abilities and helped to get them ready for the second half of the season, but they learned a lot more than just how to improve their personal bests.

“Two things I think we definitely all learned is just patience and persistence,” Mikal said. “Patience, in that we would get home whether it took a day or three days and also just that persistence in that we are going to keep going on and keep pushing through this. You know there’s going to be challenges in the road, for all of us whether it be in the pool, in the weight room, or in an airport and we just got to realize that there is a bigger end goal.”

It was an eventful weekend for the swimming and diving team, to say the least, but thanks to the help of their coaches the team made it back safely.

“We want to say thank you to our head coach, Ron Allen, our assistant coach, Sam Palma, and Al King for their patience and persistence in getting us home safely,” Scarpone said. “They did an amazing job adapting to the situation and we are so grateful for them!”