YMCA Turkey Trot History
In 1896, Henry A. Allison was among six runners competing in a five mile cross country race that stretched along routes that have long since been reconstructed in the downtown Buffalo, New York area. Little did Allison know he would become the first winner of the Turkey Trot, a race that would long outlive him. During those early days, runners paced along rugged dirt roads. It wasn’t until the mid-1900s that the Turkey Trot was actually run on pavement.
Through the years, the Turkey Trot has crossed paths with runners of various styles and attitudes. The race attracts not only serious runners, but also amateur, masters and team competitors. The team competition had a rocky start during the 1899 race when John Coleman, a member of the Buffalo Team, was charged with riding part of the race in a wagon. When officials discovered this, the team was disqualified and the victory went to Rochester. Today, a number of competitors dress in costume. Spectators can spot pilgrims, bees, the Blues Brothers, turkeys and even Old Saint Nick at the Turkey Trot.
One notable runner, Gus Gressel, started running the race in 1907, and minus the one year he missed the race due to a leg injury, didn’t stop until well into his 70s! Gressel spent nearly 50 years running the Turkey Trot and won the race the first time he ran it. His son, Ed, competed with his father in 1916, and it was Ed who took home the victory that year. Some other notable male competitors after the Gressel years, include Mark Finucane of Buffalo, who won four straight Turkey Trot victories from 1980 – 1983, and David O’Keefe who holds the record for the best running time, 23:13, in 1989. The youngest person ever to take home the overall winner’s trophy is Anthony Diamond, who at the age of 15 crossed the finish line first in 1944. Sixty years later in 2004, 11-year-old Jacy Christiansen became the youngest woman ever to take first place honors among all female runners, proving that youth can find much success at the Turkey Trot.
Women did not become a part of the race until 1972. The first woman to enter the Turkey Trot was Mary Ann Bolles, who placed 142 out of 169 finishers. The most distinguished female Turkey Trot runner is Victoria Mitchell who was the overall female winner eight times – in 1991, 1992, 1994, and 1996 – 2000. Victoria currently holds the female record for the best running time, 26:21 in 1998.
The race has matured through the years, but still maintains its traditional place and time on Thanksgiving morning at 9 a.m. In 2008, 10,224 runners registered and more than 14,000 people took part in the post race party and award ceremony. Runners come from all over the United States, Canada and even overseas to compete. In fact, runners from as far away as Ireland and Australia have taken part in the Turkey Trot. Quite a difference from 1896!