Gary Kutscher, a veteran long-distance runner who once competed in the prestigious Boston Marathon, got the bird for winning the Turkey Trot 5K run.
No, not that kind of bird — it was a Butterball turkey given to him and overall-female champion 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 later became a very good long-distance runner, but now spends a good deal of her time caring for her two children.
After taking up running, she once 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, Haynes 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 and is now a county school administration.
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 and a man who competed on the collegiate level at 50-plus years of age — won his age division in 23:25.
Cooka continues to enter the trot each year and more often than not wins his age group championship.
Also in 2002, 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.
Morgan is now a member of a U.S. Air Force Special Forces team.
Haynes, was the No. 1 female finisher in 2002 in 18:42.
In 2003, after the Payson Unified 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.
In 2010, Lopez — who went on to run collegiately at Scottsdale Community College and at the University of North Carolina, Asheville — convinced his SCC teammate Francisco Castorena to enter the Turkey Trot telling him the run “was a lot of fun.”
Although Payson’s 5,000 feet altitude slowed Castorena, he won the race in 19:01.
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.
In 2007, Payson High School chemistry teacher Cynthia Pool won the trot in 20.47. Just two years later, the highly popular educator was killed in an accident in Wyoming while on a coast-to-coast cycling trip.
Although there are runners who are determined to blister the Green Valley Park course, the Turkey Trot is as much about walking as it is running.
For example, 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 and check in will be held from 8 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. The race begins promptly at 9 a.m.
Runners and walkers can register online or at the Parks and Recreation offices at Green Valley Park.
The registration fee is $40. The fee includes a Turkey Trot sweatshirt. For students up to grade 12, the fee is $25, but no sweatshirt is included.
Registration deadline is Nov. 7.
For more information, call the Parks and Rec offices at (928) 474-5242, ext. 7 or visit the Web at www.paysonparks.com.