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CRYSTAL RIVER — The black circles ringing her eyes hardly hid her anger.
And even standing motionless, shoeless and on the edge of a parking lot puddle in torn jeans, dirty wet socks and a damp hoodie, it was obvious to everyone, Rachael Powalish was upset.
The Crystal River nail technician was the last woman standing in the “Last Man Standing” competition and one of the final four.
The 38-year-old single mother of two had trooped along for more than 75 hours and watched 43 others, including 13 women, drop out. She had stood night and day through sun and rain, hardly moving, eating and drinking little.
Contestants got a five-minute bathroom break every eight hours and were restricted to a confined area in the rear parking lot of the Crystal River Mall.
Supporters could pass them select food and recharge cell phones; the event supplied beverages.
The remaining standers competing against her for the winner-take-all $5,000 purse were father and son Eddie and Ed Hendrickson of Homosassa and Steven Goforth of Crystal River.
There were various rules, but “Last Man Standing” is not a precision sport and final word on any issue fell to James Dykes, head judge and organizer.
Early Tuesday afternoon, the event had hit a stalemate. All four looked worn, frazzled and foggy. The Hendricksons joked about their hallucinations and Goforth wondered if he would be able to drive home. Powalish just stood and stared, a UM (University of Miami) cap holding back her dirty blond hair.
But some of the supporters, mostly family members and friends, were getting concerned about the length of the event. And Dykes, who thought it should have ended by noon, was worried about their health.
He talked with each of them trying to broker a split. But they would not have it, each vowing to hang on.
He tried it again later without luck, but knew something had to be done. He offered to reset the rules, they could take a break, eat and drink whatever they needed and he would restart the clock.
It seemed fair to the three guys, but Powalish wasn’t buying it. “I’m not hungry, I’m just sleepy,” she said. “I feel confident, I feel good. If I eat and drink now, I’ll be here for another three days and I don’t have time.”
Then things started breaking down. The others accepted resetting the rules, but she raged against the change or compromising in any way. There were heated words between her, Eddie Hendrickson and Dykes.
They were now pushing 78 hours. “It’s not worth our health for five grand,” Hendrickson said, referring to the $5,000 prize planned for a sole winner. But she would not budge.
Finally Dykes announced it was over, there would be four winners instead of one and they would split the prize.
It took a few seconds for her to absorb the decision. “I could have won,” she said. “I could have won.”
Contact Chronicle reporter Pat Faherty at 352-564-2924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.