AZTEC — Teams of four runners, dressed in matching costumes, plunged through pits of mud, scrambled over cars and slid down hills on Saturday at the Aztec Motocross Track.
The runners were participating in the first-ever X Run. The race is the brainchild of Ashley Dye and Robert Settles, who heard about mud runs about two years ago and decided to start one in Aztec to benefit charity.
Mud runs are a growing fad across the country for runners looking to add thrill to races. The X Run 5K race featured numerous obstacles, including a climbing wall, cars, a waterslide and, of course, a mud pit.
Among the participating teams was the Bloomfield Fire Department, wearing gray shirts displaying a logo reading "Whitten's Warriors."
Kilian Carey, a member of the fire department, is especially attached to the logo. Whitten is his 4-year-old nephew.
Because Whitten was born three months premature, his parents, Steffan and Megan Carey, knew there was a chance that something could be wrong with him.
"He was born so early, so we knew there was a chance," Megan Carey said.
But it wasn't until 2-year-old Whitten wasn't walking that the couple realized what had happened. Because he was born premature, Whitten had bleeding in his brain, which caused him to develop cerebral palsy.
"We didn't know anything about it," Megan Carey said.
The cerebral palsy prevents Whitten from walking because the nerves in his spinal cord send the wrong signals to his legs. But that doesn't stop him from being an active and passionate child.
"I like motocross racing," Whitten said.
Steffan Carey, who is involved in motocross and speedway, sometimes takes Whitten into his race car and drives around.
In April, the family traveled to St. Louis, Mo., to meet with a doctor and get approved for a surgery that will hopefully help Whitten walk. The surgery is only performed by a handful of surgeons, and the doctor in St. Louis is one of the best, Steffan Carey said.
It won't cure the cerebral palsy. Instead, the doctor will sever the nerves that are sending the wrong signals to Whitten's legs.
About 2,500 children have had the surgery and most of them are able to walk within a year, Kilian Carey said.
That is a moment Steffan and Megan Carey can only dream of right now. Megan Carey imagines they'll both cry and be ecstatic when Whitten takes his first steps.
While the Carey family is lucky is have insurance that covers most of their medical bills, not everyone is that fortunate.
To give back to the community and the people who have helped them, the family has set up Whitten's Warriors, an organization that raises money for Carrie Tingley Hospital in Albuquerque and Peach's Neet Feat in Farmington.
Proceeds from the X Run benefitted Whitten's Warriors, and Whitten's story inspired runners to come out and try to survive the X Run.
The Party Rockers, a team of women dressed in pink and black, were one of the groups inspired to compete by Whitten's story. The team consists of Jackie and Lacey Farmer, Sasha Neumann and Ryann Fenimore.
The four friends have limited running experience and had never attempted a mud run before. However, Jackie Farmer said they trained daily at the gym in preparation.
Other runners, like Jason Deweese, came out for the love of mud races.
Deweese, a Durango resident, has run six or seven mud races. However, even a mud race veteran like Deweese couldn't help but feel exhausted by the end of his run.
He said the hardest part was a steep hill with a cargo net at the top. The cargo net was placed there so runners -- who by that time were generally on their hands and knees -- could pull themselves up.
Megan Carey and Whitten cheered on the runners.
While the young mother said it was initially overwhelming to cope with her Whitten's cerebral palsy, the family has learned to be proactive.
"His whole life has been a huge new experience for us," she said.