Turkey Trot runners dash into Thanksgiving morning

November 22, 2018

La PORTE – The sixth annual Turkey Trot 5K took place Thanksgiving Day on Michigan Avenue in front of the YMCA.

Beginning at 8 a.m., runners/walkers of all ages competed in seven groups, starting with ages 12 and under, going up to 65 and over. Each age bracket held a female and male winner for a total of 14 runners scoring a hand-made pumpkin pie donated from The Cakery as their prize.

The fastest runner and overall male winner was Dakota Merkel, 20, of La Porte. A current biology student in his Sophomore year at IUPUI, Merkel has been running for 12 years with the track team from La Porte High School through college. Merkel ran the 5K (approximately 3.10 miles) race in a blazing 17 minutes and seven seconds, a full minute ahead of the second runner up.

“It was a little windy and cool, but conditions could have been worse.” Merkel said of the race. This is his second year winning first place at the Turkey Trot. When asked if he will compete next year, he simply said “maybe.”

Female race winner Ailee Hogan, 16, of La Grange, Illinois, finished at 21 minutes 59 seconds. She competed along with her father, Kevin Hogan, who finished first in his age group. Ailee also placed first for the female runners last year, and intends to race and win again next year.

The father/daughter combo has participated in the Turkey Trot since it began six years ago, becoming a tradition with their family.

“We come to visit family in New Buffalo every year, and hit the La Porte race. We like the course and the prize (pumpkin pie),” the Hogans stated. Ailee, a junior in high school, is also a runner with her cross country team.

The event is hosted by the La Porte Educational Development Foundation, which started in 2012. Board of directors member Nick Otis oversees the event. Otis stated the race grows in number each year, with a total of 500 runners in 2018, up from 350 in 2017.

“I love the people and all the local support. This is the biggest race in La Porte County and it keeps getting bigger,” Otis said.

The event cost $20 with pre-registration, and $25 the day of the race. Along with 20 sponsors, the money raised goes toward grants and scholarships through the La Porte Educational Development Foundation. Participants are each given a custom made T-shirt with their entry.

“Any race has some problems. This year we started using an electronic bib unit to track runner times and places. The WiFi gave us some issues, but we got it figured out,” Otis said.

One group of 11 racers, along with four dogs, came equipped with turkey hats. The tradition started with Charlie Mader when he found a discarded turkey hat outside of Walgreens.

“I picked up the hat and wore it the first time three years ago. After that, my entire group bought turkey hats off Amazon. Now we all wear them during the race,” Mader said.

Charlie comes with his brother, Nick Mader, and girlfriend Molly Hinken. They all come from Chicago, along with family members from South Bend and La Porte.

“It’s a scenic route,” Nick Mader said. “I like all the high fives we get while running. It’s very encouraging when the crowd cheers. I like how the race starts and finishes at the same spot.”

“I like how the football team and neighbors cheer us on,” Charlie Mader added. “It’s a good open course, fun, and a tradition.”

His girlfriend Molly Hinken has participated for the past three years. She said she enjoys the crowd and all the costumes.

“That hill after the golf course really gets ya,” Hinken said, catching her breath.

Their friend Gabriella D’Aquila is a big fan of the race, she makes her own custom designed T-shirt for the event. She likes to run along with her two dogs, Bravo and BB.

“It’s a bit cold – I can’t feel my legs!” D’Aquila commented. Even so, she said she would be back next year and enjoys the tradition of running with her family, friends and dogs.

The Turkey Trot will return next year on Thanksgiving Day.

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