Before the football games and the seemingly endless supply of turkey and cranberry sauce, there is something else going on in Baltimore County that defines Thanksgiving: the Green Valley North Turkey Trot, an event held to benefit the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America.
Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are different conditions that belong to a group of inflammatory bowel diseases.
"So both diseases impact individuals differently but essentially they're both inflammation of the digestive tract or the [gastro-intestinal] tract," said Lindsay Butler, executive director for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America.
Each disease has a range of symptoms, varying from severe stomach discomfort and bowel issues to joint pain and vision problems.
"The diseases can lead to more than having an upset stomach but they can even lead to having to have surgery, having to have your colon removed, having complications from these diseases," Butler said. "About 1.6 million Americans are impacted, but about 40,000 in the Maryland community are impacted."
The Green Valley North Turkey Trot is in its 32nd year of raising awareness and funds for Crohn's-related research. It will be held at Chestnut Ridge Park, in Owings Mills. Registration is at 8 a.m. and the run/walk will begin at 9 a.m. Cost is $30 for adults, $20 for children 12 to 18, and free for children younger than 12. Parents can make a $10 donation for a T-shirt for children younger than 12. Individuals are encouraged to avoid the line on the day of the race by attending one of two earlier packet pick-ups, either at Fleet Feet Sports, in Pikesville, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 21 or at Chestnut Ridge fire company, in Owings Mills, from 5 to 8 p.m. Nov. 24.
The 5K and 1-mile fun run will feature complimentary breakfast foods such as bagels, fruit and nutrition bars, plus attractions for kids.
"We will have food and drinks; we're going to have a moon bounce for the kids … one of the fire trucks from the Chestnut Ridge Fire Department will be there," said Josh Scheinker, 2015 Turkey Trot chairman and board member of the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation.
The entire event isn't expected to go on much past 10:30 a.m., Scheinker said, as participants will likely be eager to get back to their families and partake of some turkey, stuffing and other Thanksgiving goodies.
"In most cases people do come to the race … and after the race people want to go home and prepare for Thanksgiving and be with their families that morning," he said.
The event began over three decades ago when Owings Mills resident Mort Hyatt, now 74, decided to take a run with some friends on Thanksgiving and raise funds for Crohn's disease research. Hyatt, who suffers from Crohn's disease, said he and his friends raised $325 the first year.
"So we started having one rule," he said. "Next year if you come back you have to bring one new person. We carried that through for years."
Eventually the event became more than some friends taking a Thanksgiving morning run. Hyatt, with help from his seven friends, formed the Green Valley North Turkey Trot, which refers to the annual event and Hyatt's nonprofit, which became a 501(c)3 about 25 years ago.
Hyatt said all of the proceeds from the event each year have gone toward Crohn's disease research funding, specifically at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical System.
"All of the money that we raise, we give away. That's very important. We don't keep anything. We have to pay $300 to the federal government and $50 to the state government because we are a legitimate 501(c)3," Hyatt said.
After more than three decades of running the event, Hyatt is handing over the reins to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America, which will receive the proceeds from this year's event and those held in the future.
"We have taken over; we are doing all the planning and execution of the event; we're running the web page and things like that, but we're doing it in partnership with [Hyatt] as we learn from him and connect with the people who have been with the event for so long," said Lindsay Butler, executive director for the CCFA.
Funds raised will be used for community programs as well as research, Butler said.
"So the money from the event will go to a variety of different programs. We have local support programs so we have support groups that actually meet and you can connect with other individuals who are impacted by these diseases … we also have education programs, so for example we had an educational program in Howard County earlier in the year that was geared toward adolescents and their parents," she said.
Funding cutting-edge research is a vital part of the foundation's mission. And, Butler said, a breakthrough is on the horizon.
"We're at a point where we're able to identify bacteria that live inside the guts so we're starting to identify what different environmental factors are able to interact with that bacteria and cause the disease to turn on," she said.
She said researchers are currently working on therapies that would "prevent potential triggers from interacting with the bacteria of the intestinal [tract] that often leads to a Crohn's disease or Ulcerative Colitis diagnosis."
Crohn's disease isn't well understood in the community, Butler said, and because of that, there is an overall "lack of compassion," as well. But it's events like these, Hyatt said, that help raise awareness and bring the issue out into the open.
The event drew about 1,500 people last year, Hyatt said, and seems to always have quite the turnout.
"I can point back to 1992 when I've been doing it and it's been packed every year. People in the Owings Mills, Pikesville, Reisterstown area do the race. It's been jam-packed every year. Whether it's raining, snowing or a magnificent day, we have huge crowds," Scheinker said.
This particular event is different from other 5K walks/runs because it is more casual, said Bobby Levin, co-owner of Fleet Feet Sports in Pikesville. Fleet Feet has supported the event for about 13 years, Levin said.
"We have a large running community that comes out of the store so a lot of our customers have become over the years big fans of the race. We're able to get the word out to lots of folks that the race is taking place and what an exciting and fun event it is on that Thanksgiving morning," he said.
This kind of event is perfect for Thanksgiving because it inspires people to be thankful for what they have while giving back to others, Butler said.
"It's a really exciting event. It's a great way for your family to come out and celebrate and do something special on Thanksgiving morning together that is not just about what you have to be thankful for but also what you can do to help others and inspire them and motivate them in the community. So we're really excited that we're able to be a part of something so special," she said.
And for many, the event has become more than just a fundraiser — it's become a Thanksgiving staple. Just ask Levin.
"One of the things I like about it is that it gets a bunch of people out there early in the morning … it's become part of, for myself and a lot of other people, it's just become a part of the day," he said. "It's become a part of Thanksgiving. We wouldn't really think about Thanksgiving without thinking of the race — the run I should say. They go together. I'd feel cheated if I didn't have that event on Thanksgiving."
If you go:
What: The Green Valley North Turkey Trot benefiting the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America
Where: Chestnut Ridge Park, 2382 Ridge Road, Owings Mills
When: Nov. 26; registration is at 8 a.m.; the walk begins at 9 a.m.
Registration: $30 for adults, $20 for children 12 to 18, and free for children younger than 12. Parents can purchase a T-shirt for their children who are younger than 12 by making a $10 donation. Individuals can also register from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 21 at Fleet Feet Sports, in Pikesville, or from 5 to 8 p.m. at Chestnut Ridge fire company in Owings Mills. Individuals can also register online individually or in teams and create a fundraising page. The first 500 individuals to register, either online or in person, will receive a unique long-sleeved wick shirt. All others will receive a long-sleeved white cotton T-shirt.
For more information or to register: Visit online.ccfa.org/greenvalley or call 443-276-0861 to speak with a CCFA staff member.