Multiple sclerosis race organizer fights for research

Lauren Glendenning
The Aspen Times
Runners race through the golden backdrop of Aspen in the fall during a previous TNT 10K. This year's race kicks off Saturday morning at Koch Park.
Steven Goff/Courtesy photo |

Lexi McNutt remembers feeling scared when she first learned of her multiple sclerosis diagnosis four years ago at age 41, but her doctor told her not to give up on her active lifestyle.

“There’s a lot of fear and uncertainty about what the future is going to look like,” she said.

McNutt had been running with a group of Aspen girlfriends every Wednesday morning for six or seven years, and one day she threw out the idea to throw a private fundraiser to raise money for the disease, but a friend told her to go bigger and make it a community event.

“I thought, ‘Why not? Why keep it small?’” she said.

The Aspen Town-N-Trail, or TNT, 10K race was born, and Saturday will be its third year. The first two races raised about $100,000 total, all of which McNutt donated to the Colorado-Wyoming Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. She hopes the event will raise as much as $40,000 this weekend with approximately 150 runners hitting the trails.

When McNutt hands over the funds to the MS chapter, she asks that it’s specifically allocated to research.

McNutt feels that it’s her way to say thanks for the progress that research already has provided to those living with MS.

“If you look back, like, 15 years ago, there really weren’t MS drugs. We’ve come such a long way,” she said. “That’s because that research starts at the grassroots level.”

Saturday’s run hits scenic, golden trails as well as the streets of Aspen. Kim Allen, who is helping organize volunteers for the event, said much of the race is set against the backdrop of Aspen Highlands and the Maroon Bells.

Allen, who is a cancer survivor and a member of the running group, can relate to McNutt’s commitment to finding a cure.

“Just like with breast cancer, MS is similar — the only way they’re going to ever find a cure is if there’s money for research,” Allen said. “Maybe not a cure, but ways in which people can learn to live with these diseases and conditions and have healthy and sustainable lives.”

The cause of MS is still unknown — scientists believe the disease is triggered by environmental factors in people who are genetically predisposed to respond, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The disease affects the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves with symptoms that can include blurred vision, loss of balance, poor coordination, slurred speech, extreme fatigue and paralysis, among other problems.

McNutt feels lucky that she can still run with relative ease. Her biggest limiting factor is fatigue, which she struggles with periodically.

She still runs with her Wednesday-morning group still and can run long distances, too. She just has to work around her symptoms.

With the money raised at the annual TNT race contributing to the research pot, McNutt is hopeful there will be a cure found in her lifetime, or maybe even a way to reverse the damage of MS.

“I owe that to future generations to continue to fight,” she said.