Tale of the Turkey

How the Huffing for Stuffing turkey came to be.

Every Thanksgiving morning, I stand at the starting line of the Huffing for Stuffing race and wonder if my beak is straight, if my feathers are falling off, and if I’ll stay warm and itch-free. You see, I’m the official female turkey. And how I got here is quite a story.

As an attempt to fight off what some would refer to as “obesity” and to enjoy the mountains around this valley, I began exercising back in 2001. It turned out to be so pleasant that I took on multiple sports and was proud to be the worst at all of them. In 2007, to prove my lack of coordination to a few skeptics, I tore a very important part of my left knee and had to have my ACL replaced. Three months post-surgery, my physical therapist let me sign up for a new 5k called Huffing for Stuffing. It was my first road race and my first post-surgery adventure that didn’t involve solitary exercises in my lonely apartment.

I was ready for fresh air but didn’t feel up for competition, so I called the race director, John, to ask if slowpokes were welcome. Huffing for Stuffing was a family-friendly event and people of all abilities were going to participate, he said. My wounded legs and sad, little spirit were invigorated. For the first time in months, my smile lines hugged my lips.

The temperature was low on the day of the race, but it seemed like half of Bozeman was there. As the 5k began, all I could hear were the sounds of plodding feet, heavy breathing, and a faint clicking in my knee. I took in every sensation: the views of the sky and the Bridgers, the feeling of cold air in my lungs, the ache in my left leg. For 3.1 miles, I ran. One mile for each month I was out of surgery. I could not have been more joyful. Later in the week, I called John to thank him. I told him I would be forever loyal to Huffing for Stuffing and if he needed any help next year, he should call me.

A word of wisdom: If you offer support to the director of a big race, expect a phone call before the next competition. A few months after the race, John told me that the turkey everyone had to beat to win a prize was eight feet tall and ran five-minute miles, which did not please the people who ran a slightly above-average pace. They wanted to beat a turkey and earn their water bottles, gosh darn it! John was on the hunt for someone “with a turkey personality” who was “not too fast” who would be willing to take the role of female turkey. He thought I would be perfect for the job. It seemed like the perfect opportunity. I said yes.

I had no idea what I was in for. As I waited for the kids’ run to begin, women asked me, “Are you the official female turkey I have to beat to get a prize?” When I said yes, they would yell to their friends. “Hey Claire! We can totally beat this turkey! That prize is ours!”

I also didn’t consider the distance between Bozeman and Disneyland. In snowy November, posing for a picture with the turkey was as close as some kids would get to The Happiest Place on Earth. I don’t mean to flatter myself with Mickey Mouse status, but I’ve heard many times, “Darling, go stand in that snow pile with the turkey while I take your picture... Smile!”

A turkey costume is also a great way to pick up chicks, pardon the pun. In my turkey outfit, I attract more women than a man with a pink wallet. Running hotties flock to me! They want photos, they want to know what the prize is, and they want to know, more than anything, the pace at which I run. They love finding out I’m “not too fast.” In 2010, there were television appearances, a farmers’ market event, and major improvements to the costume.

I come from a long line of odd ducks, so it’s not surprising that as an adult I would waddle into the position of turkey mascot. But this year, I’ve been promoted to volunteer coordinator. So if you want to have a volunteer adventure, ask me if I need anything.