Turkey Trot Attracts Fine Runners

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Gary Kutscher, a veteran long-distance runner who competed in the prestigious Boston Marathon, once got the bird for winning the Turkey Trot 5K run.

This bird was a Butterball turkey given to him and overall-female winner Abby Kendall for winning the 1998 3.1-mile run at Green Valley Park.

Kutscher outran the 53 race entrants in 19:53.

Kendall, then a local fitness instructor, won in 22:40.

The director of that race was then-town recreation coordinator Beth (Kreider) Beck, also a former Payson Roundup reporter, who has since become a very good long-distance runner.

After taking up running, she's competed in the P.F. Chang Rock 'n' Roll marathon.

Although holiday birds are no longer given to race winners, the Turkey Trot has, over the years, attracted some of the Rim Country's finest long-distance runners.

In 1998, the 13-18-years age division read like a Who's Who of Payson High School cross-country stars, with Leigh Anne Haynes, Amy Davis, Rachelle McGee and Lily Flores competing.

A year later, Haynes -- then a PHS sophomore -- won the women's title and Nolan Blalock reigned supreme among the men.

After graduating from PHS, Hayes continued her running career on the collegiate level.

Peggy Miles, a physical education teacher, won the 1999 41-45-years age division title. She also went on to compete in several marathons.

In 2000, when the race attracted 91 entrants, the standouts included 12-year-old Matt Behrens, 70-plus year old Tom Cooka and Carolyn Fruth, Monica Savage and Kendall in the 30-39-years age division.

In 2002, Cooka -- a veteran of the World Senior Olympics -- won his age division in 23:25.

Also that year, Tanner Morgan, who later became an Arizona Coaches Association All-Star runner from Payson High School, took top honors in a very fast 16:46.

Haynes, was the number-one female finisher in 18:42.

In 2003, after the Payson School District had eliminated physical education classes due to budget cuts, Julia Randall Elementary teacher Wayne Gorry used the Turkey Trot to motivate his students into fitness activities.

In his class of 21 fourth-graders, 19 entered and finished the 5K.

The 2004 event turned into one of the most hotly contested Turkey Trot races, with PHS running stars David Cluff, Carlan Pontious, Carlos Lopez and Morgan battling for the title. Cluff eventually won in 17:18.

Among the women, Rachel Jones a Northern Arizona University student who earlier starred at PHS, won in 20:35.

Longhorn cross-country runners traditionally do well in the 5K because it comes at the conclusion of the prep season, when the athletes are in peak running condition.

The much-anticipated Turkey Trot, now in its 13th year, is as much about walking as it is running.

In 2000, 12-year-old Kelsey Oakley toured the course in 43:55 and the husband and wife team of Ed and Phyllis Schmidt crossed the finish line in 44:45.

This year, the Turkey Trot 5K Run/Walk is on the agenda for Nov. 17 at Green Valley Park. A pre-race registration will be held from 8 to 8:45 a.m. The race begins at 9 a.m.

Runners and walkers can register online or at the Parks and Recreation offices at Green Valley Park before noon Nov. 16, for a fee of $15.

On race day, the registration is $20. The fee includes a Turkey Trot T-shirt.

For more information, call the Parks and Rec offices at (928) 474-5242, ext. 7 or visit the web at www.paysonparks.com.

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