Tony Weathers, a 30-year-old athlete in the competitive division of Saturday's Original Mud Run in Fort Worth, went missing before the end of the race, and yesterday, authorities found his body in the Trinity River, where participants crossed as part of the course. Original Mud Run organizers say they did their best to ensure participants' safety during the challenging race dotted with obstacles and physical challenges, but some race participants who swam across the crowded waterway weren't surprised that someone didn't make it to shore.
Mia Walters participated in the same division as Weathers and struggled to make it to a floating platform, where she took a break for a few minutes before finishing what she described as a potentially deadly swim.
"I guarantee you it was the first [of two river crossings]" where he lost his life, she told Unfair Park. (Eric Lindberg, a race spokesman, confirmed that was the case). Walters says that portion of the race was so unbearable that she sent her sister a text when the race was over: "I was gonna Google mud run deaths honestly," it read.
"We were being ushered in like cattle and told not to stop," she said of the Trinity entrance. Competitive participants like both Walters and Weathers had to wear pants and boots for a chance at winning. "You're touching everyone. You can't get away," Walters said.
Guide ropes were available, she said, "to shimmy along and pull yourself," but they were useless when frightened and exhausted participants sat on them and sunk them beneath view. This left a sea of participants in heavy boots and clothing struggling to stay afloat. People around her were crying and panicking, Walters said. A woman dunked her under water in an attempt to save herself, and someone else had to pull Walters back to the surface. "I literally just didn't think I was gonna make it across," she said.
Lindberg, the Original Mud Run spokesman, gave Unfair Park a run-down of the safety personnel on site at the race. At the first river crossing, where Weathers was found, there were four certified lifeguards, two of whom were on a floating platform connected to the guide ropes in the middle of the river. The guide ropes, he said, are "just meant to serve as a guide. They're not life-saving."
Another participant, Jim March, said lifeguards had an impossible job. "From my perspective, the lifeguards at the first river crossing were over-burdened with people that should have NEVER been in the water," March wrote in a Facebook message. Lifeguards helped struggling swimmers onto the center platform and yelled for the strong swimmers to move to the perimeter, he said, adding, "At no time did I feel unsafe. I'm well aware of my limits." At the second river crossing, he noticed more people took the bypass along the shore.
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At the second river crossing, Lindberg said, there was one certified lifeguard and one volunteer certified in advanced cardiac life support, CPR, and first aid. Six others with medical training and over 50 volunteer safety monitors fanned out over the race, and two Marines and one nurse manned the water stop that participants passed twice.
Weathers marks the first participant death in the race's 14 years, Lindberg said, and though there was significant rain this weekend, he maintained that there was "nothing in particular" about the conditions that differed from previous years.
A statement released this afternoon by Original Mud Run organizers expressed condolences to the family and friends of Tony Weathers, and went on to detail the safety precautions taken by the organization:
"With all of our races, safety is our number one priority and we take extreme care in constructing our obstacles and the design of our course," the statement reads. "With any of our obstacles that involve river crossings or swimming we provide alternate routes, swim assist devices, guide ropes, floating platforms and certified life guards. In addition we make multiple announcements prior to the race, during the registration process and prior to the start of each wave regarding safety and encourage all participants to either skip or choose the alternate route should they feel unsure or feel that they cannot complete an obstacle. We care deeply about our participants and our thoughts are with the family and friends of the Weathers family at this time."