| Special to Fort Myers News-Press
The largest annual single sports event in Cape Coral will be met with silence this year.
The expansive parking lot at the Cape Coral Wellness Center will not be packed as it normally is with hundreds of family members starting their Thanksgiving holiday with a 5K race.
The annual Turkey Trot, a beloved tradition with residents including non-competitive runners and little tots lined up for a one-mile fun run, has attracted upwards of 2,500 runners in the last decade, easily the largest 5K in Southwest Florida behind the Edison Festival of Lights race in downtown Fort Myers.
The Wellness Center parking lot was always the hub of activity that morning, with a large tent full of post-race food, live music, tables full of trophies and medals and a cast of volunteers handling registration and passing out soon-to-be favorite T-shirts.
Just a year ago, the race attracted runners from 24 states, Canada and Europe, many returning home for the holiday.
For this year’s 41st annual event, the organizing Fort Myers Track Club has implemented a virtual race which opened for emailed times on Sept. 17 and will conclude on Thanksgiving at 11:59 p.m.
Runners can still register through ftmyerstrackclub.com. The cost is $35 for adults and $25 for youth 17 and under.
“The virtual registration is not good, the prospects are low and of course COVID-19 fixed that,” said Candy Pemberton, the Fort Myers Track Club president. “While virtual running is not necessarily competitive, the appeal is you can run anywhere, your favorite path or trail through the neighborhood or even on a treadmill.
“The morning festivities have become a big family holiday tradition, more than anywhere else in Southwest Florida, and I’m afraid our charities will suffer.”
The 2020 Turkey Trot proceeds will help fund the Hope Parkinson Program, the Lee Health Foundation for Lee Health service areas and the track club’s youth scholarship program.
“The track club has raised a large amount of money through the years for Cape Coral Hospital additions and our scholarship program, but that commitment will suffer in 2020,” she said.
Participants who continue to enter will be enticed with extra race product.
“Everyone who has entered will receive a gender specific T-shirt and finisher medal. Now if you register for the Trot and two additional races you receive a hoodie and extra specially designed medals,” she said. “We’re trying to keep the interest high, asking people to support our mission by going on line and becoming involved.”
The virtual City of Palms River Run 10K on Dec. 5 and the Lazy Flamingo half marathon Dec. 20 are part of the special incentives program.
“The Strides for Education 5K in Cape Coral on Feb. 6 will be both virtual and live, where you can run the actual race,” Pemberton said.
Franklin Caceres, 18, of Cape Coral took the male Turkey Trot title in 2019, finishing in 16:38. Sisters Emily Edwards, 23, and high school star Jessica, 17, dominated the female division a year ago, winning their divisions and placing 20th and 28th overall in 18:54 and 19:25, respectively.
At a glance
What: 41st annual Turkey Trot Virtual 5K
When: Times must be entered by 11:59 p.m. Thursday
Cost: $35 for adults, $25 for ages 17 and under
Proceeds: Benefit Hope Parkinson Program, Lee Health Foundation and Fort Myers Track Club Youth Scholarship program
Swag: All participants receive a race and gender specific tri-blend short sleeve t-shirt and a finisher medal.
Registration and info: ftmyerstrackclub.com