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Courtesy Photo. Nearly 40 walkers and support staff gather at the Gateway Motel in Hurley at 11 p.m. Friday night, for the long 36.5 mile walk to Deming during the annual Walk for the Heroes, started by Liz and Mike Lopez.
Courtesy Photo.  Nearly 40 walkers and support staff gather at the Gateway Motel in Hurley at 11 p.m. Friday night, for the long 36.5 mile walk to Deming
Courtesy Photo. Nearly 40 walkers and support staff gather at the Gateway Motel in Hurley at 11 p.m. Friday night, for the long 36.5 mile walk to Deming during the annual Walk for the Heroes, started by Liz and Mike Lopez. (null)

SILVER CITY >> It was a grueling 36.5 mile walk - one that U.S. Army Veteran Michael Lopez has done a number of years before. But this year, Lopez had lots of company, as the walk he started years ago to prove to doctors that he could, has now become a community walk to honor veterans and those killed in the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on 9/11.

Nearly 40 walkers took on the nearly 40 miles between Hurley and Deming, gathering at 11 p.m. Friday night at the Gateway Motel in Hurley. They headed out as a group to walk that long, lonely highway in honor of those killed in 9/11 or others that they wanted to honor in their own special way.

Courtesy Photo. Raul Turrieta "walked" the 36.5 miles on rollerblades, in memory of his son, Raul Turrieta III, 23, who was murdered in April in
Courtesy Photo. Raul Turrieta "walked" the 36.5 miles on rollerblades, in memory of his son, Raul Turrieta III, 23, who was murdered in April in Arkansas. (null)

Gold Star mother Mary Cowan may have walked to honor her son, Aaron, who was killed in 2005 when the Apache helicopter he was piloting crashed in Korea. Aaron Cowan was a CW3, warrant officer in the U.S. Army, on his third tour of duty when he died.

Named for another veteran, the walk also honored Kay Beeman's son, Army Spc. James Heath Pirtle, who was killed in action in 2003, when the Bradley Fighting Vehicle he was in was hit by a RPG in Assadah, Iraq. The walk was officially named after him this year as the James H. Pirtle "Walk for the Heroes" and garnered support from the local chapter of the Marine Corps League, the Gaffney-Oglesby Detachment 1328.

Walkers like Marine veteran and Marine Corps League member Rob Narvaez was still recovering days later.

"It did get grueling. The sun started coming up and there was a heavy traffic and I ended up by myself for a lot miles and it started wearing on down me," he said.

Armed with his iPhone loaded with 940 songs and some Jolly Ranchers, Narvaez made it most of the way.

Courtesy Photo. Mary Ann Madrid, who did the entire 36.5 miles on her own in her wheelchair, rolling herself. Here she is exhausted, following the walk,
Courtesy Photo. Mary Ann Madrid, who did the entire 36.5 miles on her own in her wheelchair, rolling herself. Here she is exhausted, following the walk, with her mother, Karla Madrid. (null)

"I made it about 25 miles and I hit the new pavement and my blisters just went crazy," he said. "I didn't train for it. I just went out on will power and mind over matter and let's do it for all the right reasons."

The walkers had plenty of support with members of the Marine Corps League and others providing supplies like energy bars, water, fruit, and porta potties. Every few miles, when the group was still together, they would stop and do health checks.

"We would grab water, oranges, bananas," Narvaez said.

But as the walkers made it further, the crowd spread apart and dwindled.

Courtesy Photo. Mike Lopez with Kay Beeman, whose son was killed while serving in Iraq. The Walk for Heroes was named after him as the James H. Pirtle Walk
Courtesy Photo. Mike Lopez with Kay Beeman, whose son was killed while serving in Iraq. The Walk for Heroes was named after him as the James H. Pirtle Walk for Heroes. (null)

"Everybody has their own pace," he said. "All of a sudden, it's quiet and dark and you can't really see anything and you are looking at the stars and then watching the moon go down."

Most got to the rest area between Hurley and Deming - about 17 miles - at about 5:30 a.m.

But not everybody walked.

Raul Turrieta did it on rollerblades. Turrieta said he has been rollerblading for years, and rollerbladed all over the island of Oahu in Hawaii when he was in the Navy from 1978 to 1981. He said he always wanted to rollerblade that stretch of road between Hurley and Deming and the Walk for Heroes gave him the inspiration and opportunity. He had another inspiration as well. Turrieta lost his 23-year-old son to homicide in April of this year.

Courtesy Photo. Mike Lopez wears U.S. Army Spc. James H. Pirtle’s picture on his back during the Walk for Heroes named in Pirtle’s honor.
Courtesy Photo. Mike Lopez wears U.S. Army Spc. James H. Pirtle's picture on his back during the Walk for Heroes named in Pirtle's honor. (null)

"He was my little fallen hero," Turrieta said.

As he was blading, he said his right leg cramped up and he looked up and called to his son. The effort gave him the strength to go on.

And Mary Ann Madrid did the entire walk in her wheelchair, rolling herself the entire 37.5 miles, refusing to let anyone push her.

"She muscled her way all the way down," Narvaez said.

Liz and Mike Lopez walked beside her, encouraging her, as did others.

"She did it all the way," Narvaez said. "It was pretty inspirational."

The first walker arrived at Diaz Farms at 10 a.m. Saturday morning - eleven hours after setting off. The last arrived at 5 p.m. - 18 hours after they started.

Plans are already in the works for next year's walk, said Liz and Mike Lopez, with a few changes. Next year, they are planning a shorter route, to allow more people to participate, and plan to keep it in Grant County. One possible route would be from the Grant County Veterans Business and Conference Center, to Bataan Park in Santa Clara, a distance of about eight miles.

"I would like to see a bunch of wounded warriors participate," said Mike Lopez. "This is for them. They are the heroes."

Lopez said he was even approached by a family member of Juan Dominguez, a veteran from the Deming area who lost three limbs while serving his country, and she said he would like to participate.

"I like the long route, but we'll discuss it and see what road we decide to take. It's not about me now, it's about them, and I want to focus on those people. Let's make it a day for them."

For more photos of the Walk for the Heroes or to support it for next year, visit their Facebook page at facebook.com/WalkForTheHeroes

Christine Steele can be reached at 575-538-5893 ext. 5802.

Walk for the heroes Walkers:

B.J. Elders

Sammy Molina

Linda Dietrek

Javier Martinez

Able Montes

Frank Salcido

Loyola Salcido

Mary Cowan

Tip Cowan

Mary Ann Madrid (in her wheelchair)

Jason Bray

Mark MacDonald

Alice Rodriguez

Jeff Larkin

Rob Narvaez

Yvonne Carbajal

Richard Carbajal

Sonja Martinez

Amanda Martinez

Larry Martinez

Allan Duran

Mike LopezLiz Lopez

Shane Gabbert

Eddie Lopez

Lino Woods

Robert Lopez

Dana Lopez

Raul Turrieta (on rollerblades)

Michelle Sarri

Joshua Sarri

Tobias Rodriguez

Adrienne Ortiz

Chris Foelker

Ben Collins

Maria Louisa Esparza

Marty E. Dominguez

Sam Terry

Damien Martinez

April Whitloft

Tanner Whitloft

Jim Zawacki

Walk for the heroes Support Staff:

Shane and Loretta Gabbert

Frank Donohue

Cos Erwin

Ernie Sandoval

Jeff Larkin

Connie and Jim Zawacki

Katie Molina

Kay Beeman

Sam Terry behind Mary Ann

Joe Martinez and his wife and grandson

Christine Steele can be reached at 575-538-5893 ext. 5802.