Missouri’s biggest and grandest Thanksgiving 5K Turkey Trot, one of Springfield’s signature events, had humble beginnings in 1995.
The 3.1-mile holiday run/walk debuted on a day when it was 17 degrees. It was contested on a course that included two loops near Evangel University and had 142 finishers.
Today, the event typically draws over 7,000 runners and walkers, many in costume.
Prizes back in 1995 included at least one television set and exactly 10 turkeys.
They were awarded randomly, recalls Jodie Adams, who worked for the Park Board for 32 years and was director from 2006 to 2012.
Bib numbers were drawn to match prizes with runners.
The television was donated by the General Electric Company, which was a race sponsor. Other sponsors were the Springfield Park Board, Ozark Mountain Ridge Runners, Council of Churches and the Developmental Center of the Ozarks.
Race registration back then was a mere $10 with day-of-race signup costing $12.
Adams said she knew the first Turkey Trot was a success the moment a runner crossed the finish in a full turkey costume.
“That just made our day,” she said. “It was perfect.”
In the early years, the race was held near the Development Center of the Ozarks, 1545 E. Pythian St.
Runners, now and then, are asked to bring canned food to donate. The proceeds of the race go to the center and park board, which provides scholarships to children who otherwise might not be able to afford park programs.
HE HAS RUN ALL 24 TURKEY TROTS
Tim Robie of Buffalo is now 70. He ran the first Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot and has run every one since. He plans on running the 25th edition on Nov. 28, as well.
He is one of only a handful of runners who are thought to have run every year.
“It was very cold that day,” Robie said of the first one. “Everyone was bundled up in gray sweat pants and in gray sweatshirts.”
He was 46 back in 1995 and finished 32nd overall in a time of 21:18. This was before there were age divisions in road races.
“We went into a tent behind Evangel after the race,” Robie said.
Later, Evangel built a nearby gymnasium at Pythian and Fremont Avenue and runners congregated there.
Like many runners, Robie keeps notes to remember races and training.
In 2005, the race had 2,374 registrants.
The record is 9,007 in 2012. Last year there were 7,598.
Twice, Robie said, he has run with his grandson. But not in recent years; he runs solo.
“It is my tradition, my personal tradition. I think it is the greatest way to start the day. Then I go pick up my Black Friday News-Leader.”
Robie does not have a shirt from that inaugural race. He made a point of not keeping it because it had a picture of a real turkey on it.
“Turkey heads are ugly,” Robie said.
An “online exclusive” is an article or story that does not run in the print edition of the Houston Herald but appears on the newspaper’s website. Typically 2 or 3 are posted online every Wednesday morning. It’s another feature designed for users who purchase full web access from the Herald.