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Uphill trek For community spirit

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Stretches of biking, snowshoeing, running and cross-country climbing make up what’s known as the Quad

When a little-known nuclear reactor near Harrisburg, Pa., burst into national consciousness in 1981, the fallout from the accident at Three Mile Island was a complete disintegration of the uranium industry. And that ripped the economic heart out of Grants.

This year will be the 30th anniversary of the Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon, started as a way to help Grants recover from economic devastation, as well as a community morale-boost.

The Quad, as it is known, starts with a 13-mile bike ride from Town Hall at an elevation of 6,500 feet, followed by a 5-mile run on a dirt road, then a 2-mile, 1,200-foot cross-country climb and finally a 1-mile, 600-foot snowshoe slog to the top of an 11,301-foot peak before reversing it all back to town.

If you go
What: Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon
Where: Grants
When: Feb. 16, 8 a.m.
Who: Solo, pairs and 4-person teams
How much: $60 per person for teams and pairs; $80 for solo competitors before Friday; $100 thereafter. Registration closes Feb. 14

At the Quad’s inception, Mark Lautman, a former swimmer for the University of New Mexico, knew that in addition to a long-term plan to turn Grants around, the town needed a quick fix that could inject some needed economic relief and some positive community spirit.

“About 70 percent of the economic base of Cibola County went up in smoke,” Lautman said. “About 8,000 people lost their jobs and these were high-paying jobs.”

As he was moving from Denver to Grants, “I’m thinking, we have to figure out some way to make an immediate contribution to the economy.”

Lautman had become a triathlete, but he knew it would take something special to attract people to Grants, so he arranged to meet UNM ski coach George Brooks, who arranged a meeting with Nordic coach Klaus Weber, who went on to coach the Lobos men’s soccer team and is now coaching soccer and tennis at Bosque School.

And the germination of the idea began in earnest.

“I thought we should do something to tie the community of Grants to Mt. Taylor,” Weber said.

“We talked about whether we could hold a Nordic ski event there now or whether we could make it a winter triathlon,” Lautman said. “There’s no place to swim in the winter so we thought we’d add skiing.”

Weber immediately got behind the idea.

“I found the concept pretty exciting,” said Weber, who plans to compete this year for about the 20th time.

After Lautman got settled in Grants, Weber paid him a visit and the two “spent a week hiking all over Mt. Taylor,” Lautman said. “We figured and realized that to get to the top of the mountain would be too steep for skies. So we put snowshoeing in. Klaus was the guy that basically engineered the course.”

Once that was determined, the route nearly laid itself out, Weber said.

The length of the bike ride “is just about perfect,” he said. “It’s slightly uphill so you don’t have crowding. The second leg is definitely ideal for running. The cross-country ski is tough, especially the hill right before the end, and the last 400 yards to the top in the snowshoe is tough.”

Turning around and doing it all again in reverse “is much easier on the way down,” Weber said. “But that can be pretty challenging too.”

That first year, there were about 50 entrants, but the number quickly grew as the local community quickly adopted the event and the athletic community gravitated to its unique nature. “Nobody got killed, we didn’t lose anybody and it was a remarkable event,” Lautman said of that first year.

Now, the event that is more than just about endurance, is a fixture on the calendar of extreme athletes.

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