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Even in virtual year, turkey trotters still run for GRPS athletics

When the first Grand Rapids Turkey Trot took place in 1993 at Riverside Park, runners used the lights from their vehicles to provide the illumination needed for their early-morning run.

Over the years the need for car lights disappeared as the trot turned into tradition for West Michigan runners and walkers. In 2019, some 4,000 people came to downtown Grand Rapids for a five-kilometer route that started outside Van Andel Arena and ended inside on the main arena floor with Blue Care Network as the presenting sponsor.

More importantly, the annual Thanksgiving Day event has become a significant fundraiser for Grand Rapids Public Schools. Proceeds from the Turkey Trot benefit K-12 athletics in GRPS, helping offset the need to “pay to play” so that all students have the chance to participate. Last year the event raised $110,000.

But in 2020, the 28th annual Turkey Trot was forced by COVID-19 to revisit some of that 1993 inventiveness and ingenuity, as it turned into a virtual 5K with runners and walkers registering and then doing a 5K course of their choosing and entering their results. 

Everyone who registered received a 2020 Grand Rapids Turkey Trot T-shirt, a branded face mask from Blue Care Network and a finisher medal in the mail.

All told, more than 1,600 people took part in the virtual Trot and organizers hope to raise at least $40,000 for GRPS athletics.

‘Move Your Feet Before You Eat’

Among the participants were Mary Voogd, a kindergarten teacher at GRPS’ Congress Elementary, her son Ethan Haney, a sixth-grade student at Sparta Middle School, and her daughter Morgan Haney, a fourth-grader at Sparta’s Appleview Elementary.

This was the fifth year the trio has done the Trot. From the beginning, Voogd said, her kids wanted to do the full 5K and not the mini-trot, a shorter race for the younger set. 

This year they ran their five kilometers on Thanksgiving morning, tracing a route around the downtown Sparta area, including through Candy Cane Lane, a lighted walkway on East Division Street.

“I put on my Fitbit, and we went 3.1 miles,” Voogd says with a laugh. “You gotta move your feet before you eat.”

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Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan covers Grand Rapids and Kelloggsville and also is a general assignment reporter and the point person for the SNN Facebook and Twitter feeds. He hails from Exeter, Ontario, but has called Grand Rapids home since 1985. He is the son of a longtime public school teacher who taught both English and machine shop! Phil took both classes at South Huron District High School, but English stuck, and at Calvin College, where he met his wife, Sue, he majored in English and minored in journalism. His background includes both freelance writing and public relations work, including teaching an advertising and PR course at the college level. In the summer of 2019, he began his own freelance writing and communications business. In his spare time, Phil plays pick-up hockey and pickleball and tries to keep tabs on his two adult children.  Read Phil's full bio

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