Community Spirit Survives at 2020 Turkey Trot

David Yon, December 1, 2020

I am still not sure what I think.   I was sound asleep at 3:30 a.m. last Thursday, as was Bill Lott,  nowhere near the SouthWood State Offices Complex where the start, finish and registration take place on most Thanksgiving Day mornings. Bill McGuire had carefully marked the miles and turnarounds on the course.  Most Thanksgiving mornings we would be on the course by now and I would be anxiously looking for the hose that volunteers would need to fill the water and Gatorade coolers. 

No hose, no water. This year, no problem, they were not needed. Major disaster in normal years. Phone rings, someone picks up “MJ, can you bring the hose to SouthWood.”  “Again?” she would say from her packed to the ceiling car. The response wasn’t really a question, it was a statement. She would have already loaded the hose.

This year it was after 7:30 a.m. when we arrived in Southwood.  “Where are the rows of portable restrooms?” I heard Bill Lott ask. He started laughing before I could respond.  1,564 people registered for the virtual version of the 2020 Tallahassee Turkey Trot. However, at the normal race start time there were less than 25 participants running on Esplanade Way and no one lined up at the start time.  We rang the bell to remember two GWTC members who unexpectedly died: Jim Phillips and Mike Boll and then “started” the race. People all over the area, city, state, country and world took off on their own version of Turkey Trot 2020 – the COVID-19 Year.

The desire to climb over the barriers in the road to racing built by COVID-19, without becoming a major virus spreader, is growing stronger. At the same time COVID-19 fatigue and irritability can impair our judgment on where the line between health and sickness lies.  At the same time our hospitals and morgues are taking care of record numbers of infected people again.  It is not a simple calculation.

In some ways we can say this year’s Turkey Trot got slammed. Instead of 5,000 or 6,000  registered participants, we had the 1,564 participants referenced above and instead of bringing them all together to celebrate our community, they were dispersed all over the place. 

And yet, many people were able to participate and incorporate that spirit of community and family we all desperately want to experience again.  From Ben Hall and his crew in the great city of Blountstown, to the Johnson, Bakofsky and Mathias families vacationing on St. Simon Island, Georgia to New York, Germany and even Australia, that sense of community was present. Pictures, Zoom, text, email, Facebook and YouTube all had roles to play.  And thanks to Turkey Trot’s new media partner, Mega Ace Media, they all got a chance to shine.

The process went reasonably well but could have been better.  I recall thinking as late as the middle of September, I didn’t have the will to make a go of it as a virtual race this year. Why should people pay to race on their own? If people can’t gather on Esplanade Way and celebrate Turkey Trot – what is the point?  And the whole virus issue has been so politically charged, it only increases the doubt. Normally, by September there has already several months’ worth of work done.  This year I was still crying in my beer.  And no matter how long I waited at the finish line, I was never going to see the thousands of runners with all kinds of looks and strides rounding the corner of Merchants Row and Esplanade Way and seeing the finish line waiting for them only one-tenth of a mile away – knowing for certain they would do something extraordinary on this day. The highpoint of every year.

But I have always said and believed the strength of this event comes from The Day.  The need for exercise and activity on a day families and friends gather to celebrate each other (usually without the need for tangible gifts) is the perfect opportunity for running and walking an event like Turkey Trot.  Yes, we are a divided country right now, but Thanksgiving brings out the best of us.  For at least a part of the day the boxing gloves go back in the closet

I am sure there are many people out there who believe there should have been some version of a “live” race on Thanksgiving Day and another group who believed our form of “virtual race” put too many people at risk. I would like to think this year’s Turkey Trot offered an opportunity to bring people together, not just for the amount of time it takes to run a race, but for all of 2021.  Here’s to getting back on the roads together in 2021!