The Turkey Chase, an annual run that has become a Thanksgiving Day tradition for thousands of county residents, will mark its 30th year Thursday.
Proceeds from the Turkey Chase benefit youth and families through YMCA programs and local rotary charities. Since 1992, the Turkey Chase has raised more than $1.5 million, and the event is the largest fundraiser for the YMCA Bethesda-Chevy Chase and the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rotary Club.
The event includes a 10K race -- the largest in Montgomery County -- along with a two-mile run and a 50-meter kids’ run.
The Turkey Chase launched in 1982 as a biathlon with swimming and running.
“The Turkey Chase was conceived by the Aquatics Director of the Y, who is now the Vice President of Operations, as a major fundraising opportunity for the Bethesda Y,” said Jackie Dilworth, director of communications of YMCA of Metropolitan Washington. “It was changed to a 10K race the following year to allow for more participants and growth. The pool is only so big, so with the swimming component, we were very limited.”
The growth of the run benefits the Bethesda community, Dilworth said.
“The best part of the Turkey Chase is that our runners are giving back to their own neighbors—Bethesda residents," Dilworth said. “Every year, Turkey Chase participants ensure that hundreds of children, adults and families in our community have access to the Y’s life-changing programs—summer camps, chronic disease prevention, parent education, mentoring and more.”
The number of people participating in the Turkey Chase has increased dramatically each year, according to race officials. In its first year, there were about 100 participants, but since the event changed to a 10K and two-mile fun run, there has been steady growth in attendance, Dilworth said.
Last year, more than 9,000 participated.
“The opportunity to get in the holiday spirit, bond, give back to the community, and be health-conscious has brought thousands of adults and kids back every year,” Dilworth said.
Judy Northrup, of Chevy Chase, has participated in the race for 29 consecutive years.
Northrup said her whole family—even those from out of town—look forward to running in the Turkey Chase every Thanksgiving.
“We started as a five-person family and now we have over 25 people from New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Chevy Chase and Boston,” she said. “It’s really a huge part of our family tradition. It started out just originally with me and my kids and then it grew and grew and grew.”
Northrup said the Turkey Chase is more than a morning run for her family.
“The Turkey Chase is about family getting together for a good cause and a way to work up an appetite for dinner. It’s a tradition of family togetherness,” Northrup said. “Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without it.”
But the Turkey Chase doesn’t only happen in Bethesda.
“Last year, we hosted a satellite race in Afghanistan, which came out of a father’s wish to continue his family’s tradition of running together every year, despite being separated by deployment,” Dilworth said.
As the race's popularity has grown, however, so have the crowds. Northrup's tip for new participants? Get there early to find parking.
"It’s all worth it," Northrup said. "It’s a great way to give thanks, be together, and give back to the community—that’s why I keep going back!”
Register for Turkey Chase at www.turkeychase.com. Online registration prices until Nov. 20 are $45 for the 10K, $20 for the two-mile run, and $15 for the 50-meter Kids’ Run.