CLEARWATER — As the 32nd annual St. Petersburg Times Turkey Trot draws an expected 16,000 runners and walkers to Clearwater High School this morning, Ryan Beckman will be among them for the 26th consecutive year.
"The first time I didn't have a choice," the Dunedin resident said.
Ryan was still in utero, about to make his worldly entrance on Dec. 11, 1984.
Back then, the world hadn't turned into a chilling totalitarian society as predicted by George Orwell in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, but we were stuck on mounds of moussed hair, shocked that Madonna was like a virgin and grateful that the force was with us.
That Thanksgiving, a very pregnant Susan Beckman got up at the crack of dawn, loaded her daughter, Amy, into a stroller, joined a friend and walked a leisurely mile in the Turkey Trot, when it was still a fledgling.
"There were only about 1,500 to 1,800 people in those days," said Susan, now 55 and a registered nurse at Mease Countryside Hospital.
The family has been shakin' their tail feathers every year since, getting up with the roosters and gobbling down the tradition of fun.
"When I got to be 7 or 8, I'd run on my own," Ryan said.
He kept running, first entering the 1-mile Gobbler, then the 5K Wingding, then the Wingding and circling back to run the 1-mile with his little cousins.
"We never did the Turkey Trot (10K)," he said. "We thought that was for real runners."
Not that he isn't athletic. Ryan played baseball for Dunedin High School and Pasco-Hernando Community College.
Today he works as a sales representative for Athletic House in Clearwater, a custom silkscreen T-shirt and embroidery company.
He remembers the years he and his cousins wore silly turkey hats or clown wigs or spandex. Their little group has grown to about three dozen family members and friends, who range from infants to those nearing 80.
After the Turkey Trot, Ryan and the gang will go over to his mother's home for egg casserole, bagels, coffee cake and pancakes.
"I will put out two newspapers so we can shop for Black Friday deals," Susan said. "Then we'll put the parade on TV."
Typically, they eat, then crash.
Around 3:30 p.m., they start making final preparations for a Thanksgiving dinner for up to 40 people, including those invited because they would have been alone on the holiday.
"I always look forward to the Turkey Trot," Ryan said, "sometimes, more than the Thanksgiving dinners themselves."
Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at email@example.com.