Camp hoping to become traditional part of holiday

NEIGHBORS

November 26, 2001|By Kimbra Cutlip | Kimbra Cutlip,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THE HOLIDAY season is a time for many of us to relegate our "thin pants" to the bottoms of our dresser drawers. But a few folks have reason to feel thin, healthy and pretty good about what they did on Thanksgiving Day.

Whatever they're called - turkey trots, turkey chases, turkey runs - the myriad foot races held Thursday morning are a testament to the popularity of incorporating a little exercise into a day generally recognized as the start of the feasting season.

YMCA Camp Letts in Edgewater held its first turkey chase last year and seems to have started a growing community tradition. This year the 5- and 10-kilometer races drew more than 380 runners and walkers, and hundreds of family members who came to offer their support.

While the race participants wound their way along gravel roads and dirt trails through the undeveloped woods of Camp Letts and the adjacent Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, the spectators didn't just stand around in the cold.

The Camp Letts race committee built an entire family event, offering pony rides and setting up entertainment, refreshments and children's crafts in the camp's dining hall. Many of the runners and walkers set out behind baby joggers or ran with four-legged companions.

"We wanted to do something as a family," said Sharyn Collinson, 35, of Edgewater as she jogged beside her husband, Tom, 34. Their 3-year-old son, Teddy, bounced along with them, a bundle of fleece in his baby jogger.

It was their first 10K race as a family. "It's a great thing to do on Thanksgiving," Sharyn said before they trotted off into the woods.

Kevin Groner, 37, of Annapolis herded his four kids to the pony rides while his wife, Karen, 36, ran in the race.

"We had heard about this place," he said, "but we've never been here. Now that we're here, we're recognizing what a great place it is, what a jewel it is."

Just behind Groner, the glistening Rhode River provided a peaceful morning vista for those gathered at the dining hall. There, Lisa Mondoro of Edgewater helped Jacob, 3, and Jenna, 1, glue and paint paper-plate turkeys and Indian vests. The family recently moved from Virginia.

"You can't find a community like this in Northern Virginia," Mondoro said.

One of the goals of the event was to introduce the camp to the community, said Gloria Brown, Camp Letts' business office coordinator. Another was to raise money.

Scott Peckins, executive director of Camp Letts, said some of the money from entry fees will bring children of victims of the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon to the camp.

The money will also benefit Edgewater Rotary Club, a co-host of the event, and Camp Letts and the Smithsonian. This year, $2 of the each registration fee will be given to the Salvation Army.

While the event was great for families, it also drew some competitive runners.

The winner of the women's 10K, 20-year old Katie Sloan of Severna Park, was on break from University of Richmond, where she is a cross country runner.

"I wanted to do a turkey trot," she said. "I've never done one before. We're not supposed to be running on break, but I figured a nice little race wouldn't hurt."

In the men's division, Mark Roasasco, 42, of Arnold completed the 10K in just under 34 minutes. Roasasco is training for a half-marathon in Tuscon. He said he usually runs a Thanksgiving Day race, but this was his first time here.

"I enjoy the fact that it's an off-road race," he said. "It's a nice break."

Many of the participants said the beautiful surroundings made for an exceptionally enjoyable course. When the Collinsons crossed the finish line an hour or so after they began, they were smiling.

"It was an absolutely beautiful course on an absolutely beautiful day," Sharyn said.

Dennis Mondoro was greeted at the finish line by his brood, who were waving balloons shaped like hearts and poodles.

And when Karen Groner rejoined her family, she had only good things to say about the race.

"I think we'll make it a tradition," she said.

For the Norton family of Annapolis - who had nine participants on the course, including 15-month-old Kelsey Norton and her 52-year-old grandmother, Laura Norton - the tradition may already be set. This is their second year, and they plan to come back.

Peckins is not only counting on the event becoming a tradition - he's also thinking about its growth. It was modeled after an event started at the YMCA Camp in Bethesda that draws more than 5,000 participants.

"When it grows," he said, "we've thought about different things we can do. The course can handle that many, but parking would be an issue."

He said the race committee might consider running shuttle buses to the camp from parking lots at area schools.

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