Haines City pulls off last-minute venue change for Ironman

- After Hurricane Michael made it impossible for Panama Beach to host the Ironman competition, Polk County stepped up. It was a massive challenge, but they pulled it off.

“We pulled the resources together [to fill] 2,400 volunteer shifts,” said Mark Jackson, executive director of Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing. “The city of Haines City has been phenomenal. Polk County government has been phenomenal.”

On Friday, highly-trained athletes continued to arrive at Lake Eva Park, where the Ironman Village was set up.

Festivities will continue throughout the weekend, with the actual race on Sunday.

The last-minute venue change made the Ironman a more expensive proposition for some competitors, including Julian Rangel, who flew in from Austin, Texas.

He said it cost him more than $2,000 in lost deposits and other fees. 

“That’s nothing, some people [in the Panhandle] lost everything,” he told FOX 13.

His buddy, Corby Bittner was going to come with his family, but when they heard it was going to be held in Haines City, they made other plans.

“They wanted to play on the beach," he said. “Inland just didn’t have the same appeal to them.”

Festivities will continue throughout the weekend, with the actual race on Sunday.

The event is open to spectators.

“Anyone who wants to watch, we want them,” said Florida Ironman Race Director, Ben Rausa, “You see what it is all about, and you’ll be hooked immediately.”

For the course and more information about the race, visit http://ap.ironman.com/triathlon/events/americas/ironman/florida/course.aspx

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