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Tom Mooney, of Lutherville, has dressed up as a turkey for the Towson Y's Turkey Trot race for nearly 20 years.
Tom Mooney, of Lutherville, has dressed up as a turkey for the Towson Y's Turkey Trot race for nearly 20 years. (Cody Boteler / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Every Thanksgiving morning for the past 24 years, crowds of people have gathered at the Orokawa Y in Towson to run a 5K “Turkey Trot” race for charity.

And for about 18 of those 24 years, Tom Mooney, of Lutherville, has made an appearance, dressed as a turkey.

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“I am an entertainment piece and a photo opportunity,” Mooney said. “That’s the beauty of the turkey costume. Although I am a runner, I don’t have to run on Thanksgiving morning.”

For a few years Mooney would rent a costume from a local shop. Actually, it was more of a pilgrim costume with a paper-mâché turkey head, he said. Maybe seven years ago, he bought one from the same shop. It’s softer, with a fabric head and body — and it’s 100% turkey, no pilgrim.

He also has a Santa costume, which he’ll start to don when it gets closer to Christmas. Mooney said he’s always happy to dress up and help out with local events, especially those at the Towson Y.

“It’s an easy way for me to give back to the community,” he said. “And, truth be told, I don’t mind being the center of attention.”

For charity

The host of the 25th annual local Turkey Trot, The Orokawa Y in Towson, has a long history, dating back more than 60 years, though it did not adopt its name until 2013. That’s when a new, $11 million center opened. The Y in Towson is named for The Orokawa Foundation, a large donor to the Y in Central Maryland.

Today, the Orokawa Y has just under 21,000 members, said executive director Amy Gantz-Cheatham, making it one of, if not the, largest Y in central Maryland.

According to an annual report assembled by The Y in Central Maryland, the organization last year raised and invested more than $26 million across its branches in Baltimore County, Baltimore City, and Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties. That money, according to the report, funds subsidies and grants that are a part of the organization’s Open Doors financial assistance program.

The idea, Gantz-Cheatham said, is that a person’s or family’s level of income should not be a factor that keeps them from joining a local Y. While the level of assistance varies on a case-by-case basis, Gantz-Cheatham said it can easily cover more than 50% of a membership cost.

She said the Orokawa Y registers an average of 18 Open Doors memberships each month. It’s an important discount, she said, because it allows the Y to be have “a sense of community” and engage people in “a healthy lifestyle” at all levels of income.

“We say all are welcome here,” she said. “We want to make our programs available regardless of ability to pay.”

And it’s the Turkey Trot that helps pay for those scholarships. Money from registration fees and race sponsorships goes toward the Open Doors program.

Across its central Maryland locations, the Y sponsors seven Turkey Trot Charity 5Ks. Anyone can sign up and register to run in one of the Turkey trots, regardless if they’re a member. Individuals can sign up online or in person up to the day of the race.

All in the family

Organizers this year are hoping for 16,000 participants across all central Maryland locations for this year’s trot. Gantz-Cheatham said the Orokawa Y had about 2,350 people registered for the race as of Nov. 21. The T-shirts for this year’s Turkey Trot commemorate the 25th anniversary.

In Towson, the race course starts at the Y, goes to Allegheny Avenue, loops down Highland Avenue and then to Dixie Drive for the first mile. The second mile is from West Chesapeake Avenue to Chestnut Avenue, and then up Chestnut Avenue until a turn onto Trafalgar Road. At Trafalgar, the race enters its third and final mile, and runs along Picadilly Road, across Eton Road, and then along Allegheny until the finish line back at the Y.

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The race is scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, and Gantz-Cheatham said it and related festivities, like a costume contest for dogs, should be finished by 11:30 a.m. About 100 people are expected to volunteer and help the race function, including Mooney.

Mooney isn’t one to wake up and run on Thanksgiving morning. He doesn’t run in costume, although some people do. It’s not uncommon to see runners, walkers and even dogs wearing themed hats or other costumes.

Mooney’s job, like he said, is to provide entertainment and encouragement, high-fiving and posing with runners and anyone else who comes to the event.

His daughters, though, do run in the race — and both said they’ve been running for as long as they can remember.

Kingsley Mooney, 28, and Garland Mooney, 24, both said they love coming back to Towson each year for Thanksgiving and having the race to look forward to. Kingsley lives in Charleston, South Carolina and Garland lives in Washington, D.C.

“It’s been a family tradition for many years now,” Kingsley Mooney said.

Garland Mooney said the race isn’t so much about the competition for her and the rest of her family, but more about the tradition. The sisters have tried, in various years, to get other family members to run, but most prefer to volunteer in other ways, they said.

It’s “about just being there. It’s normally pretty cold, so as long as we get through it, and get a picture with our dad, it’s a good time,” Garland Mooney said.

She said she and her sister get excited every year when their dad texts them to ask if they’re going to participate in the race — “As if we ever wouldn’t do it.”

Kingsley Mooney said she can’t think of a Thanksgiving where she hasn’t completed the Turkey Trot and “earned her turkey.”

“The most fun part is finishing and getting to see my dad in the turkey costume, and all the little kids that get to see him in the turkey costume,” she said. “Seeing my dad and everyone surrounding him is kind of fun.

“I know it’s a really important event for my dad, and I really cherish the three of us doing it.”

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