Catonsville Turkey Trot 5K still going strong

Catonsville resident Sandra Gallagher-Mohler has seen the Catonsville High Turkey Trot race grow to nearly 1,000 runners since it began in 2004.
Catonsville resident Sandra Gallagher-Mohler has seen the Catonsville High Turkey Trot race grow to nearly 1,000 runners since it began in 2004. (Staff photo by Ed Bunyan)

Don't expect Sandra Gallagher-Mohler to host any traditional family dinners at her Catonsville home on Thanksgiving Day this year.

The mother of two boys will be too busy as race organizer for the 11th annual CHS 5K Turkey Trot and One-Mile Fun Run, which begins at 8:30 a.m. at Catonsville High School.


The former Catonsville High cross country and track and field coach started the Thanksgiving morning race in 2004 with just 25 runners.

She hoped to raise some money for the Comets' cross country team.


"Originally, I thought it would be great if we could make some money for the team, but, ultimately, I wanted to just give something to the community that was running oriented and was focused on fitness, and it gave me a fun opportunity for that," Gallagher-Mohler said.

The 3.1-mile race has grown steadily. Last year's 10th annual Turkey Trot led to  more than $19,000 in donations, and Gallagher-Mohler is hoping for as many as 1,000 runners this year.

That means she won't be cooking the traditional turkey dinner with stuffing any time soon.

"One year I tried to host Thanksgiving at my house while doing this," she said. "I put the bird in the oven, came here (Catonsville High), went back home and I realized that was the dumbest thing ever — not a smart decision — so we don't do that anymore. My sister has taken that over."


Her husband, Jeff Mohler — a former boys lacrosse coach at Catonsville High — agrees.

"It was mayhem," Mohler said. "It worked out OK, but we learned our lesson."

Both the 5K and 1-miler begin on Rolling Road and the first mile of the 5K covers the same first mile of the Fun Run, so families can jog together.

The rest of the course is the same as the one the Comets run in cross country.

The race has become a community event that brings together families and friends.

"It's a family tradition, and that's the point," Gallagher-Mohler said. "People come up to me every year and say, 'I've been running this since you started it.' "

For Gallagher-Mohler, a 1999 Catonsville graduate, and Jeff, who graduated from Catonsville in 1994, and sons Jake, who turns 8 on Nov. 29, and Brooks, 3, the race is special.

"Our whole family turns into Turkey Trot central the week before the race," Gallagher-Mohler said. "We are stuffing bags, and the kids are there. This is a family affair. You just can't do this on your own."

Jake and Brooks plan to do the Fun Run with their dad.

"This is probably going to be the first year I'll do the one-mile Fun Run with both of the boys because Jake and Brooks want to do it," Mohler said. "Jake looks forward to it, and Brooks is the Energizer Bunny."

Race day cost is $35 and all the proceeds benefit the Catonsville cross country program and other community organizations. The title sponsor is the MedStar National Rehabilitation Network.

Among the money raised last year, $931 went to the Comets' cross country team for T-shirts and a new tent. Another $6,000 was used to purchase shared cross country and track uniforms.

The Carol Saffran-Brinks Memorial Scholarship was presented with $2,000, which was split between 2013 Catonsville High graduates Tara Macdonald and Kirubel Asfaw for their collegiate careers.

That scholarship was started in honor of Carol Saffran-Brinks, who died in June of 2010, but whose sons Casey, Kent and Cameron ran cross country and track for Gallagher-Mohler at Catonsville.

"Between us and the Brinks family and her friends they have supported that scholarship fund, so it's been able to grow every year," Gallagher-Mohler said.

In 2013, $350 was also donated to the Catonsville Celebrations Committee and $500 to the Baltimore Chapter of Back on my Feet, which uses run training to assist the homeless.

The race includes a contest that awards $100 to the school that has the most participants affiliated with it.

Last year, Hillcrest Elementary was the winner among the schools that also includes Catonsville, Westowne and Westchester elementaries, Catonsville and Arbutus middle schools and St. Mark School.

The most substantial amount of money donated last year went to the new Catonsville High School Athlete Performance Center, as $9,272 was raised to assist in outfitting the new weight training area, which opened in September.

"Watching the funds being contributed in such a very concrete way is the icing on the cake, but watching the families come together and everybody have such a great time and be so supportive of each other and experience the gift that running gives, that is what I absolutely love," Gallagher-Mohler said.

Gallagher-Mohler praised Catonsville High principal Dr. William Heiser and new athletic director James Fitzpatrick for helping her vision become reality.

"He (Dr. Heiser) understands the power that athletics has on a school and on a child's life and he supported it all the way and 'Fitz' (Fitzpatrick) did as well," Gallagher-Mohler said. "It really takes people with that vision to be able to make it come to fruition."

Fitzpatrick came to Catonsville in 2002 as a teacher and soccer coach after working at Thomas Johnson since 1981, and he's looking forward to seeing the benefits of the performance center.

"Having spent 21 years out in Frederick County, I think this is something we can be proud of and this puts us on a par with some of the better athletic programs around the state that have this kind of facility," Fitzpatrick said. "Having good programs and good teams is not an accident. It's a function of work."

Gallagher-Mohler, who works as a run coach for Under Armour Performance Center, knows about the importance of training, but she also knows how to make a race enjoyable.

The Catonsville Hub provides a moon bounce and Pixilated Photo Booths offers picture opportunities, while DJ In the Mood keeps fans dancing to the music.

Although there won't be a turkey awarded to the winner of the race, Catonsville cross country coach Ben Fusco trots along in a turkey costume.

Fusco took over the coaching position, along with Val Ruzin, in 2013 after Gallagher-Mohler left Catonsville High to coach the track sprinters at Loyola University.

The post-race includes prizes donated by sponsors MedStar National Rehabilitation Network, Portalli's Restaurant, Orthopedic Associates of Central Maryland, IRunTons, The HUB Bike Shop, Pixilated Photobooth, Mohler and Gary Realtors, Dr. Doug Miller and Associates, Signs by Tomorrow, Sugarbakers, McFarland and Masters, Law Office of Frank E. Turney P.A., Peepers Eye Care, Franco's Italian Bistro, Wegmans and In the Mood DJs.

"We have phenomenal raffle prizes, tremendous gift cards and prize packages," said Gallagher-Mohler, who praised the aid from Catonsville High alumnus and Portallis Restaurant and Diamondback Tavern owner Evan Brown.

"He said, 'What do you need to make this the best event that you could,' " she said.

Gallagher-Mohler, who competed in a half-triathlon in June, is an avid runner who knows the value of prize money for elite runners.


Portalli's came through with prize money that includes $500 for the 5K male and female winners, $300 each for second place and $100 for third.


Age-group winners receive $50 gift certificates to Portallis, and baked goods, provided by cross country family members, are given to overall and age group category winners.

Sugarbakers is donating cakes and last year's cake with a turkey design was so big "three families couldn't finish it," Gallagher-Mohler said.

One of her favorites memories of past races was seeing kids run in it who later came out for her cross country team while she was the coach.

"Every time I'm out there and I see all these people coming together, I really can't describe that feeling," Gallagher-Mohler said.

Race note: Baltimore County Public Schools are closing three hours early Wednesday because of snow. Therefore, the race packet pickup scheduled for Wednesday from 4-7 p.m. at Catonsville High School will not be held. Race-day registration and packet pickup begins at 6:45 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

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