FAIRMONT - Luis Fuentes is a healthy, 33-year-old father of two who always enjoyed running and biking.
When he moved to Fairmont in 2011, he heard about people competing in triathlons, and he wanted to race. But he didn't know how to swim.
Fuentes grew up in the mountains of Guatemala, and swimming just wasn't a priority there. Undeterred, Luis jumped in. And he struggled.
LIKE?A?FISH?— Luis Fuentes exits the lake during the Hall Lake Challenge in Fairmont. Fuentes just learned to swim in the past year, and is now taking home awards for his speed at triathlons and other swimming races.
He said it took him almost 20 minutes to swim a quarter-mile, holding on to the ropes the whole time.
Afterward, he decided he did not enjoy the experience.
"I didn't feel like that was for me," he said.
But the triathlon continued to call to him.
Fuentes had been biking and running with Fairmont's Multisport Club, a casual group of exercise enthusiasts who meet weekly to run, bike or swim.
"We knew Luis was struggling with swimming," said Phil Hanson, a club member.
Hanson and a few other members of the group began bringing Luis along to swim at the Sherburn pool, dedicating time to teach him the strokes he would need to compete, and helping him become comfortable in the water.
"He would do everything we suggested he try," Hanson said. "He just kept challenging himself. Pretty soon he was not just swimming one lap, but then two and then three. He just kept getting better and better."
Over the course of the year, Fuentes worked hard, and soon he was ready for open water swimming.
"Swimming in a lake is very different from swimming in a pool," he said. "The wetsuit made the difference, I think."
Fuentes considers himself a strong but slow swimmer, and sees he has room to improve in speed. Yet he is good enough to begin placing at triathlons this year.
At Fairmont's triathlon, Fuentes came in fifth place in his age group - only one year after struggling in the water. At Jackson's triathlon, he placed third.
"I am a strong swimmer," he said, "but not fast. But I catch them up on the run and the bike."
For Hanson, Fuentes' success proves a point, and he hopes it inspires others.
"He is a perfect example of what you can do," Hanson said.
The Multisport Club hopes others will begin to train, even if they are not confident in their ability.
Hanson has organized a "Become a Triathlete for Life" program for people interested in becoming more active.
Over the course of the next few weeks, Hanson hopes people will try swimming, biking and running (or walking) and join him on 9 a.m. Aug. 15 for a triathlon run-through.
This no-pressure race will involve nine laps of swimming at the aquatic park, five miles of biking and three miles of walking or jogging to be completed in two hours or less.
"We would like people to try swimming, biking, running," Hanson said. "It is opening up the concept of doing activity that leads to something in the future."
To register for the event, visit www.zapevent.com
For Fuentes, working toward his goal has had another benefit. It interested his daughter. At 6 years old, she has begun competing in triathlons herself.
"That is the biggest gift," Fuentes said.