Yon couple drives Turkey Trot success
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
It was almost 4 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning when David Yon showed up at Southwood to finish up final preparations for the start of this year’s Turkey Trot road race.
“I overslept,” said Yon with a smile, while being dead serious.
He actually had nothing to worry about, though. A corps of volunteers was already getting work done for the Gulf Winds Track Club to host more than 5,500 participants on Thanksgiving morning.
While Yon, the race director, settled into his chores for the day, his wife and co-director Mary Jean set up to handle race day registration.
The 40-year-old race has become the Yon’s Thanksgiving gift to Tallahassee, a fact that they downplay. They say volunteers and the thousands who show up are what drive the success of the race.
It’s no simple project. Water stations are set up along the route, volunteers work the timing system, monitor the course and keep runners in the right lane at the finish where they receive participation medals.
Then, there is the cleanup crew. Of course, planning had been going on all year, with Sandra Lee taking a lead role in organizing volunteers.
“They say it takes a village,” Mary Jean said in between assisting participants like Alex Mosca. “It’s really true. David and I can’t do this on our own.”
Mosca exemplified what race day often is like for the Yon’s and volunteers. He showed up to see about getting a race t-shirt that he couldn’t pick up earlier.
Mary Jean turned immediately to let him have his choice of shirt from the back of a black pickup truck.
It was a breeze.
“They’ve been doing it for years,” said Mosca, whose family was one of hundreds that showed up for the race. “They know what they’re doing.”
And there is fulfillment like seeing people – including strangers – interact like they’ve known each other for years. That drives him, said David Yon.
“More than anything else it’s to show people they can find something to do and get along with each other,” he said. “It’s the community.”
Over the years, the race site has become more spectator-friendly. A handful of vendors who are mostly sponsors hawk their products as giveaways, including filled water bottles by Basic Life Church.
Getting into the race doesn’t setback participants too much. A family could enter for $14 per person. Individually, entry is under $20.
It’s all for a good cause, Mary Jean said. After half of the proceeds go to the track club, the other half is shared among the Kearney Center for the homeless, Refuge House and the Boys and Girls Club.
In addition to distances – 5K, 10K and 15K — that the serious runners chose from, the recreation type gets to participate in a one-mile run. However, it wasn’t all that in the beginning.
The race began as the 10-mile run. Before it was moved to Thanksgiving Day as the Turkey Trot, the event took place at several venues, including FSU campus and Tram Road. It was also known as the Dean Chenoweth Classic, and eventually carried the names of sponsors like First Union Bank and Budweiser.
Bill McGuire, whose job for the last few years is to hand out awards, has been a part of the race since its inception. No other race in the city has the same aura, he said.
“This day has a different feel from all other race in Tallahassee because in almost all other events competition is key,” he said. “That’s the thing that people come for. This is a combination. Some people are very competitive, but there is this feeling of community. Everybody carries that thing of Thanksgiving with them.”
That includes the families that show up with children and pets in tow. Then, there are folks like former state representative Alan Williams.
He came to run as a tribute to his father, who died last fall.
“Up to this point, I’ve just been kind of trying to work out, eat better, live better,” Williams said, adding that he couldn’t miss making his first start in the race.
“It’s a great community event,” he said. “Gulf Winds Track Club is one of the premier track clubs in the country. They know how to put on races and they’ve put on some very good races all over this community. They can do it in their sleep almost.”