By Jon Johnson
PIMA – It’s that time of year again and families are beginning to make preparations on just what to whip up to eat as our nation celebrates the time-honored tradition of Thanksgiving.
Here in the Gila Valley we have another time-honored tradition (although not quite as old) and – thanks to the efforts of its organizers and volunteers – locals, visitors, friends, and family start to whip each other into shape around this time of year in anticipation for the 12th annual Pima Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving, Nov. 23. The 1-mile fun run will begin at 8 a.m., followed by the 5K (3.1-mile) chip-timed race at 8:45 a.m.
While the trot is a great time for people to get together before the big gathering of Thanksgiving and run off some of the food guilt possibly to be piled on later in the day, it is also for a good cause as the race’s proceeds go to assist local students.
Co-directors Cody Marshall and Melinda Nelson first began the Pima Turkey Trot in 2006 as a lark, but it quickly grew into the seminal 5K race in the Gila Valley with more than 800 participants each year.
The race has been a boon to the Pima School District, which has been the beneficiary of more than $50,000 in proceeds donated by the race to the district in a variety of needed areas. Among other areas and items, the donations have been used to purchase new uniforms for the Pima Show Choir; the school’s physical education department; knowledge bowl; various athletic, music, art and vocation programs; elementary school playground equipment; FBLA; cameras; the school’s new weight room and, along with other funds, to build its new field house. The race also donates proceeds to a community foundation endowment fund that local businessman Ted Prina matches. Once the endowment fund reaches more than $50,000, each year 5 percent of the interest the endowment generates will be awarded as scholarships.
Every participant also heads home with an official Pima Turkey Trot race T-shirt, which has become a collector’s item in its earliest forms.
Last year, a record 883 participants took part in the trot, which also saw a record finish in the 5K race as Bailey Roth, of Atlanta, Georgia, bested the old time by more than a minute to finish in 15:55. While the fastest time record may be hard to beat, with the trot getting bigger and better every year there’s a real shot at breaking the attendance record.
Online registration closes on Tuesday, Nov. 21 at midnight, so don’t hesitate. Afterward, last chance participants may register in person during packet pickup Wednesday, Nov. 22, at the Pima School District cafeteria at the corner of Main Street and 200 South from 3 to 7 p.m. Participants are encouraged to pick up their race packets at that time. Racers may also register the morning of the race up to the start of the 1-mile fun run at 8 a.m. Online registration is encouraged, however, to ensure participants receive a race T-shirt.
While the race is a family-fun event – everyone’s favorite turkey mascot Stephanie Hoopes will be there running in full costume – it also offers up bragging rights between serious runners. For the past few years, the race had been a duel between Brendon Allred, of Kingman, (winner in 2014 and 2015) and Derek Weech, of Gilbert, – the 2016 champion, until Roth came out of nowhere to blow away the field last year.
The last local to win the race was Mati DeSpain, of Thatcher, with a time of 18:01 in 2012.
The overall male and female winners are awarded $50 and a medal, while medals are also given to the top three finishers in each age category, male and female. There are also various raffle drawings and prizes donated by the race’s various sponsors.
“We’ve gotten some stiff competition, especially for the male (division),” Nelson previously told Gila Valley Central. “I know of some families that used to trade off going every other year and now the son says, ‘Sorry, I have to go to turkey trot every year.’ Every year the last few years, the record has been broken.
It’s not all about who finishes first, however, and groups of families join in on the fun to run with each other and see extended family. The family with the most participants is also rewarded with a turkey. Nelson said she loves to see the evolution of the number of people in a family participating from the start of just one member who perhaps likes to run going the first year, to the entire family joining in during subsequent years.
“You wouldn’t think taking home a frozen turkey would be that exciting, but people get pretty excited about being the biggest family there, so we like to see that,” Nelson said.
What: Pima Turkey Trot
Where: Vard Lines Memorial Arena
When: Thanksgiving morning, Thursday, Nov. 23
Time: 8 a.m. – 1-mile Fun Run; 8:45 a.m. – 5K
For more information visit pimaturkeytrot.com.