WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, New Mexico – U.S. Army officials on Wednesday made the decision to cancel this year's Bataan Memorial Death March as a precautionary measure against the spread of the coronavirus.
The 31st running had been scheduled to take place Sunday at White Sands Missile Range. More than 10,000 participants - a record number - had been registered for the 2020 event, organizers said.
"The Army is taking precautionary measures to protect the health of the force and the march's participants, and is following the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control to cancel gatherings of 250 participants or more in locations where there is minimal to moderate threat of the virus spreading," said WSMR spokesman John "Drew" Hamilton.
The 26.2-mile course honors the 75,000 soldiers who defended the Philippines at the outbreak of World War II.
Participants – military members and civilians – compete in teams or as individuals. In the “heavy” division, each participant carries a 35-pound rucksack. The event also features a 14.2-mile, noncompetitive route.
"We apologize for any inconvenience this will cause to our guests, race participants, volunteers, sponsors and other stakeholders, many of whom are traveling from outside the state of New Mexico," Hamilton said.
Two men who have participated in past races and were set to do so again this year, Leith Labrado and Craig Thompson, said the cancellation of a big event like this was an eye-opener.
“It’s better to be safe than sorry, I totally understand that," said Labrado, of El Paso. "But if you’re going to be at an event where you run 26.2 miles you’re not sick.”
“It’s pretty mind blowing to watch what's going on right now, it truly is,” added Thompson, who was traveling in from Indiana. “I cancelled my flights, two rooms in Las Cruces were I was staying, and my car rental.”
The tickets to participate in the event for an individual cost about $160
and around $600 for a team. Some participants have told ABC-7 that event organizers haven’t been clear if they’ll get a refund at this point.
The only other time the event has been cancelled was in 2003 during the military's "Operation Iraqi Freedom."
Along with the cancellation of the race, organizers said the associated country music concert featuring Lee Brice and Gary Allan at the Pan American Center on Friday was also canceled and refunds would be available at the outlets where concert-goers bought their tickets.
Currently, officials said there were no known coronavirus cases reported at WSMR. But on Wednesday though, New Mexico officials said the state had recorded its first four cases of infection - all in the northern part of the state.