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Turkey Trots: A Fulfilling Thanksgiving Tradition

Jane Lizotte with photo of her father Supreme Court Justice Francis P. O'Connor

Jane Lizotte with photo of her father Supreme Court Justice Francis P. O'Connor

Published in baystateparent magazine

When Jane Lizotte of Shrewsbury begins her Thanksgiving morning, she won’t be in the kitchen preparing a turkey. Instead, the Shrewsbury Middle School principal will be preparing for the Turkey Trot for the Memory, a community race started by Lizotte and her family in memory of Lizotte’s late father and Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice Francis P. O’Connor.

Now in its fourth year, Trot for the Memory 5-miler and 2-mile fun run raises funds for the Alzheimer’s Association MA/NH Chapter. Lizotte is one of 10 O’Connor children, and her extended family includes more than 31 nieces and nephews, many of whom volunteer their time at the race or participate in the event on Thanksgiving Day.

Each year, the race has grown in both the number of participants and the funds raised for charity. In 2014, the race drew nearly 1,000 runners and walkers, and donated $16,000 to The Alzheimer’s Association.

“We continue to be amazed at the throngs of people who come out to volunteer, participate, and contribute to the race proceeds,” says Lizotte. “There are no words to describe the feeling I get when I approach the Shrewsbury Town Common on Thanksgiving morning and see hundreds of people gathered.”

Across the country, turkey trots are taking off – and are fast becoming a new Thanksgiving tradition for some families. According to Athlinks, a social networking site that tracks races across the country, the number of turkey trots grew 50% from 2010 through 2012 . There are more kids on the chilly courses as well:  Participants age 14 and younger nearly doubled in the same timeframe .

The most popular turkey trot in Massachusetts is the Feaster Five Road Race in Andover . The decades-old race draws over 10,000 participants for the 5-mile, 5K and kids’ fun runs. Finishers feast on apple pie, and kids under 12 can participate at family-friendly registration prices.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, turkey trots like the Feaster Five and Turkey Trot for the Memory benefit local or state-based charities. Prize money is generally not the draw for participants – but rather a prize turkey, a long-sleeve race shirt, goodies like pie and mugs, and giving to community-based causes.

“The focus is to attract people of all ages and abilities to want to give of themselves so others may have better lives as a result of their efforts. That is our mission,” says Lizotte.

Rich Allen, owner of PR Running in Westborough, has personally seen a growing number of customers in his store participate in turkey trots.

“There’s a genuine rise in excitement when we have a customers talking about a turkey trot,” he says. Allen, who has run the Whitin 5 in Whitinsville, along with his wife Jess, believes that the social aspect and non-competitiveness of turkey trots brings in a lot of new runners. “For many, this is the one time of year in which they will be pinning a bib number on their shirt,” he says.

The first-time enthusiasm of completing a turkey trot was what got Eric Loizeaux of Worcester out the door on Thanksgiving Day three years ago for the Holden Road Race, which began in 2011 as a re-birth of the Wachusett Fitness Turkey Trot under a volunteer-led group from Fellowship Church in Holden. Eric’s wife Sarah and three daughters Mercy (9), Faith (8), and Hope (6) have participated in the race, and all will be at the start line again this Thanksgiving morning.

“It’s become a family tradition for us,” says Loizeaux. “We love supporting the community, it gives the girls something to look forward to, and it instills good healthy habits for our kids. It’s just an all-around great thing for us to do together,” he says.

Like other turkey trots, the Holden Road Race has rapidly grown in both size and community impact over three short years. The first year, the race had more than 800 runners and provided over $14,000 to the Wachusett Food Pantry. Last year, the Holden Road Race had over 1,200 participants, and donated nearly $30,000 in total to four local charities – representing more than 90% of registration fees collected.

Loizeaux says that the race has become “a badge of honor” for Holden. “It’s not an easy 5K. It’s cold, it’s chilly, but everyone comes out, whether to run or cheer. The sponsors love being part of the event because they are part of the community.”

And, it’s gotten the Loizeaux girls, among many others, into the sport of running. “My daughters love running now,” Loizeaux says. “This race started it all for us.”

Not every turkey trot is run on Thanksgiving Day, and some are longer distances. Jody Trembley of Palmer is planning to burn off some holiday-consumed calories when she runs the Talking Turkey Trot 6 mile Cross-Country Race in Holyoke, held the Saturday after Thanksgiving. While Trembley’s younger son Ethan (11) has run two 5Ks with his mom, Jody will be running solo for the longer distance.

“I love the energy of this race,” says Trembley, who began running at age 39. “It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are – runners love to encourage each other. It makes me feel accomplished and thankful I can run.”

Trembley loves that her son now joins her in races. “It’s cool Ethan wants to run with me,” she says. “Maybe he’ll run with his kids someday.”

Family-friendly road races and turkey trots have created an ideal environment for parents and kids to share fitness, fun, and community. And for some families, Thanksgiving starts not around a table, but amidst throng of runners on the town green.

“It can be like a family reunion when you go back year after year to the same race,” says Allen. “Our kids, Nate and Meg, are now at the point where they expect to be there and even know many of the runners. It’s actually foreign for our family to think about Thanksgiving Day without going to a race first thing in the morning.”

Families and volunteers who dedicate themselves to organizing and running a turkey trot still make time to sit down and enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving feast. Like organizing a race, it takes teamwork to pull it off, according to Lizotte.

“Everyone in our family brings plenty of food and beverages to share – the best way to ‘build’ our dinner,” Lizotte says. Her family is continually amazed at the success of Trot for the Memory, the generosity of people, and the ability to collectively “be part of the solution to end Alzheimer’s disease.”“Our children say, ‘Papa would be so proud!’” she says. “What better way to spend Thanksgiving?”

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