Turkey Trot celebrates 20 years of running into Thanksgiving
Whether it’s watching the parade, playing football in the backyard, or making a time-honored family recipe — Thanksgiving traditions serve as an important part of our personal holiday narratives and bring us together. For many on the Space Coast, these traditions include participating in the Cocoa Beach Turkey Trot 5K on Thanksgiving morning.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the race, which benefits the track and and cross country programs at Cocoa Beach Junior Senior High School.
For two decades, this holiday race has been part of Brevard’s collective holiday history. Runners and walkers come together in downtown Cocoa Beach early Thanksgiving morning in the name of getting some communal exercise before the day’s food-centric festivities. The race was started in 1999 by longtime Cocoa Beach resident and owner of Apollo Realty, Rebecca Sparks.
“All profits directly benefit the students at CBHS,” said race director Marlene White. “Funds pay for cross country and track meets, uniforms and apparel and team travel expenses for middle and high school runners. Additionally, the race provides $4,000 in college scholarships for CBHS seniors.”
The ultimate goal is to someday raise enough funds to replace the aging school track.
“Our athletic programs are completely self-funded now, which can put pressure on families to pay for fundraising shortfalls,” said Cecilia “Ceal” Muldoon, head coach of the boys and girls track and cross country programs. “I’m so grateful. This money supports our kids on their mission to become the best athletes they can be.”
White took over management of the race in 2010, and has grown the 5K into a massive holiday event. In her eight years as race director, participation has quadrupled from 500 to over 2,000.
On race day, White, herself an avid runner, leads the pack through the residential roads of Cocoa Isles via bicycle. Residents line the streets to cheer, adding to the supportive community vibe. Before sunrise, her husband, Dick White, also a runner, sets up a water station at the halfway point.
“Inevitably, the first wave of the race contains current and former Cocoa Beach cross country and track stars, home for the holidays,” Dick White said. “It helps foster some healthy competition when athletes from neighboring towns and schools show up to race.”
The event brings the local community together. Dozens of local businesses donate sponsorships and raffle prizes. Middle and high school students learn about the importance of collaboration and earn valuable volunteer hours by helping before, during and after the race. Neighborhood residents make signs to display in their yard, encouraging runners and walkers. Participants create elaborate costumes to display in the pre-race parade and invent clever ways to carry 12-pound frozen turkeys in the always-entertaining “turkey team” division.
Often, former cross country and track runners who once benefitted from the race as athletes come back as adults to continue supporting the event.
For students and local residents, the Cocoa Beach Turkey Trot has become more than just a 5K — it’s a holiday tradition and celebration.
Cocoa Beach Turkey Trot 5K
When: 8 a.m. Thanksgiving morning
Where: Downtown Cocoa Beach