Thanksgiving is a tradition for many American families. They’ll gather in dining rooms and kitchens across the land and celebrate with some of the grandest feasts one could imagine.
Here in New Orleans, where hardly anyone passes up a good meal, Thanksgiving is sure to be about the food in some circles. But for many locals and visiting family members alike, there’s another venerable event each year that’s as hard to pass up as a second serving of Grandpa’s oyster dressing.
The New Orleans Athletic Club’s annual Turkey Day Race has been that event in the Crescent City for 106 years now. And for the 107th time, it will be again when the race begins at 8:30 a.m. in New Orleans City Park.
More than 3,000 people are expected to participate in either a 5-mile walk/run in and around the park; or in a half-mile race for children. The action will begin and end at Tad Gormley Stadium.
Proceeds from the race, which is being hosted by the New Orleans Track Club, will benefit the Spina Bifida Association of Greater New Orleans.
Jennifer Neil, Race Director for the NOTC, said there are two reasons the Turkey Day Race is one of the city’s largest.
“It’s good to run on a day like Thanksgiving,” she said. “The endorphins are up and a lot of people we talk to are really happy about the chance to burn calories, and then feel better when they eat that big meal later on.
“But it’s also one of our largest races because there are a lot of people from out of town who always come run,” she said. “They’re in town visiting family, and they want a chance to burn a little energy, or get a workout in before the Thanksgiving meal.”
That dynamic makes the Turkey Day Race a bit different than other NOTC events.
“It’s definitely a different crowd than we see at most of our races, but it’s people we tend to see year after year at this race,” Neil said. “If this is a one time a year event for some, that’s OK. We see new faces too, and that makes it fun for us. Honestly, it keeps it interesting. We have to find out if they’re happy with the race; happy with the experience. All of that is important to having them and their families coming back.”
The Turkey Day Race is one of the oldest continuously held races in the U.S. In fact, it was started by Gormley, who in 1907 was the athletic director at the Young Men’s Gymnastic Club (which was renamed the New Orleans Athletic Club in 1929.) Gormley came to New Orleans from Boston and he began the two oldest races in south Louisiana — Jackson Day (held each January in New Orleans,) and Turkey Day.
The first Turkey Day races were held downtown, but the course moved to City Park in 1967 following Gormley’s death (and the naming of the stadium within its confines in his honor.) The race saw tremendous growth in the 1970s when women began to compete and running became popular exercise. In 1986, it became a charitable event.
Cost to enter is $30 for the 5-mile race, and $20 for the children’s half-mile run. Entry includes snacks, fruit, water, and beer after the race. T-shirts may be available for persons registering on Race Day.
Race Day registration begins at 7 a.m. at the base of Tad Gormley Stadium. Online registration has closed.
For more information, go online to www.runnotc.org or call (504) 304.2326.