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Times Turkey Trot is a running tradition

CLEARWATER — Jimmy Carter was president, Billy Joel won two Grammys for Just the Way You Are and the Dukes of Hazzard made its TV debut. It was 1979 and fewer than 1,000 people took part in the inaugural Times Turkey Trot through the streets of Clearwater. On Thursday, in what has become a community tradition, the spectacle will unfold for the 30th time with many more people — more than 16,600 participated last year. "We have people who did this when they were 5 years old and now they are back with their 5-year-olds," said Terry Schmidt, the event's coordinator since 1979 and a city of Clearwater employee. "It's like a runaway freight train. People want to be there." Here's a look at a few of the people who count this Thanksgiving tradition as their own:

Dedicated athlete now brings a crowd

Even as a swimmer at Clearwater High School, Amy McClenathan got the most pleasure out of the team's training runs. In college, she abandoned the pool and started running 3 to 5 miles a day.

She ran in her first Turkey Trot in her early 20s.

Now, 25 years later, McClenathan's husband and four children, ages 16 to 20, will run the race. As will her sister's family of four from Atlanta. And her sister from Tallahassee is bringing a friend.

"Everyone is at a different level and interest in running, but they will be here to participate," said McClenathan, 49. "That's what's great about the trot; it's a great family event."

A health coach who now lives in St. Petersburg, McClenathan has become an avid runner, with 35 marathons under her belt. Why running? "The simplicity of it," McClenathan said. "You don't need any special equipment. You walk out the door."

Likes 'alumni reunion'

Jim Keppeler was at the starting line that second year, when there were 2,600 runners in the Turkey Trot. Since then, Keppeler, 60, has missed only one Turkey Trot. The race is where he'll be Thursday morning.

"It started because I needed to lose some pounds," said Keppeler, who retired from Progress Energy three years ago and moved from Clearwater to New Tampa. "I got in races like Turkey Trot and found out that I could compete fairly well and ended up getting hooked on it."

Fairly well?

Keppeler held the record in the Trot's 10K master's division from 1988 until 2000 with a time of 33:20. Though he still works to earn a race mug by finishing in the Top 100, Keppeler now runs the race for different reasons.

"It's kind of a special one because it's one of the first races I ran," Keppeler said. "I developed my way of earning Thanksgiving dinner. Also, it's a real good way of seeing your old buddies because they only come out for that race. A lot of them come out to the Turkey Trot like an alumni reunion."

'Fat Skippy' no more

Skip Rogers wanted to do something about his nickname "Fat Skippy."

So he started to run. A few hundred yards here. A mile there. Then in 1979, he entered his first Times Turkey Trot.

"I've been running it ever since," said Rogers, 64, who also has been the race director for 20 years. "It's like anything else — you get hooked. You get in a habit, like people who work out at the gym. You get in a routine and you feel guilty if you don't."

If you need to know the trot's first winner, everyone tells you to call Skip. Want to know what time the race starts and where it ends? Call Skip.

Rogers lives in Clearwater and retired from GTE in 1996. He said the Turkey Trot is a family tradition.

"We have third-generation families now," he said. "It's the holiday, people are home from college. There are all demographics. We have runners from 90-year-olds to babies in strollers."

Music for motivation and momentum

As soon as they see the first runner coming up Hercules Avenue, the Turkey Trot Five Plus Four band strikes up the University of Michigan fight song The Victors.

From that moment on, the band plays one fight song after another until the race ends. They play continuously for about an hour and 15 minutes.

"The desire to have music available was to spur the runners on," said John DeGelleke of Palm Harbor, the band's leader.

This is the 20th year the band has played the book of 20 college fight songs. In recent years, they've added the fight songs of Florida State University, the University of Florida and the University of South Florida. They've been at the corner of Hercules Avenue and Druid Road since 1992.

Bands have been a part of the Turkey Trot since its beginning, said Dan Boyle, who has been in charge of arranging the bands for 16 years. After they are all lined up, Boyle himself heads to the starting line.

This year, nine bands will line the course. Among the styles will be bagpipes, Southern rock, steel drums, Dixieland jazz and blues.

DeGelleke, 58, said the Turkey Trot Five Plus Four doesn't practice and just comes together on race day. It consists of three trumpets, a tenor sax, piccolo, baritone, trombone, tuba and a drummer. One of the members is DeGelleke's daughter, Emily Morris, 28, who is playing for her 17th year.

"We see each other like a family," DeGelleke said.

"We are getting together with family on Thanksgiving morning when some of us don't see each other any other time of the year."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at (727) 445-4174 or

Turkey Trot

kickoff party

The last chance to register is at Wednesday's kickoff party, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at Jack White Stadium at Clearwater High School, 540 S Hercules Ave.

Race day, Thursday

Wingding: 5K, 7:15 a.m.

Fun Run: 5K for walkers, joggers and strollers, 7:30 a.m.

Gobbler: 1-mile fitness run/walk, 8:30 a.m.

Turkey Trot: 10K, 8:45 a.m.

Cost: Registration is $13 in advance, $18 race day for all but the Gobbler, which is $9 in advance and $10 on race day.

Where: All races except the Fun Run begin on Keene Road just south of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and end in the stadium.

Who benefits? About $30,000 a year goes to local charities, including the West Florida Runners Club Scholarship Programs, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pinellas County and the Children's Heart Foundation.

Times Turkey Trot is a running tradition 11/23/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 25, 2008 4:45pm]
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