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Clearwater man readies for 42nd straight Tampa Bay Turkey Trot

To remember every run, Allyn Ramker had a quilt made from all of the event’s commemorative T-shirts.
Allyn Ramker, 70, poses in front of a quilt made of Turkey Trot T-shirts. Ramker has run in every Clearwater Turkey Trot since its beginning in 1979.
Allyn Ramker, 70, poses in front of a quilt made of Turkey Trot T-shirts. Ramker has run in every Clearwater Turkey Trot since its beginning in 1979. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Nov. 23

A lot has changed over the past four decades for longtime Clearwater resident Allyn Ramker. But one thing has remained consistent.

On Thursday, Ramker will be one of 7,000-plus people running near Clearwater High School in the 42nd annual Tampa Bay Turkey Trot — his 42nd trot to date.

Ramker, 70, has competed in every Turkey Trot in Clearwater since the event’s inception in 1979. At the time, Ramker said he wasn’t really a runner and was more of a “plodder,” but the race appealed to him because it was one of the few in the area.

“It’s just a wonderful way to start off Thanksgiving Day,” Ramker said.

Ramker enjoys the hustle and bustle of race day and seeing people he hasn’t seen since the year before. He lives close enough to the race loop that he can warm up beforehand with a short walk to the starting line on Keene Road.

“It’s just wonderful,” he said. “It just really is, and what it’s grown to be and how many people just start off their Thanksgiving this way. It’s a tremendous tradition.”

Allyn Ramker wraps up in his quilt made from Turkey Trot T-shirts, one for every race since 1979.
Allyn Ramker wraps up in his quilt made from Turkey Trot T-shirts, one for every race since 1979. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

During the 10K, Ramker will turn up the 1960s and ’70s music on his headphones to keep a good pace. He’ll listen to the same playlist as he participates in the 5K Thursday (no 10K this year due to construction in the area).

“It drowns out the heavy breathing and the sound of my feet plodding on the pavement,” Ramker said. “I put the music on, turn it way up and I say, ‘In a little over an hour, you’ll be done with this. So get busy.’”

Last year, Ramker still participated though the event was virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Thanksgiving morning, he approached the starting line and saw he wasn’t alone.

“There were about 100 people up there,” Ramker said. “It was really cool.”

Every run is special to Ramker, but if he had to choose one that stuck out the most it would be the Turkey Trot in 2009. In May of that year, Ramker suffered a stroke and needed a neck fusion but he was determined to make it to the starting line that Thanksgiving.

“I had one goal and I made it,” Ramker said.

The annual run means so much to Ramker that he decided he wanted to do something special with the stacked commemorative T-shirts, all unworn, sitting in his closet.

Last year, he contacted race organizers to see if he could get his hands on the four or five T-shirts missing from his collection. Then, he had to make another call to a friend-of-a-friend.

Ramker had already enlisted Helen Faroh to make a quilt of his old racing numbers, but now he had another project for her. With 41 cotton tees, Faroh created an “impressive” 7-by-8-foot masterpiece.

Part of Allyn Ramker’s Turkey Trot T-shirt quilt, which showcases commemorative T-shirts from every year.
Part of Allyn Ramker’s Turkey Trot T-shirt quilt, which showcases commemorative T-shirts from every year. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

Now the quilt stays folded up in his bedroom — in part because he doesn’t have a wall big enough to hang it on — and it’s a constant reminder of good times from the past 40-plus years.

“I might have to make a pillowcase or something out of the ones coming up,” Ramker said. “But if I get more than two (T-shirts), I could tack to the bottom (of the quilt).”

Ramker likes to stay active outside of the annual trot. He has competed in the Boston Marathon, New York City Marathon and Walt Disney World Marathon. He’ll often find himself at Eagle Lake Park in Largo.

“It’s just kind of a hobby,” Ramker said. “The only thing I’m competitive with is my waistline. ...I just kind of compete against myself and try to put myself in shape and have a good time.”

In addition to running/walking and going to the gym, Ramker enjoys riding his bike around Tampa Bay, specifically on the Suncoast Parkway and Courtney Campbell Causeway. He also rides with the “Cure on Wheels” group, which travels more than 325 miles to bring awareness for cancer research to the legislature through the “Moffitt Capitol Ride.”

But it’s hard to beat the warm feelings Ramker gets every Thanksgiving when he witnesses his community coming together for the annual Turkey Trot.

“To see that many people out exercising and doing something good, community-minded, it’s amazing,” Ramker said. “It really is.”

Tampa Bay Turkey Trot

When: 7 a.m. (5K) and 8:30 a.m. (1 mile) Thursday

Where: 540 S. Hercules Ave., Clearwater (adjacent to Clearwater High School)

Registration: Pre-register online at turkeytrot.net or from 5-7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex (2450 Drew St., Clearwater). Race day registration starts at 6 a.m. west of the Clearwater High School stadium on Arcturas Avenue.

Fees: $25 per person for 1 mile, $30 per person for the 5K (prices increase to $30 and $35, respectively, on race day)

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.