Turkey Trot - November 17, 2001
By: Jim Gallagher
Staging races at Lake Merced will probably always rekindle angst stemming from trauma induced the morning “Team in Training” took (without a permit) every available space in the Lake Merced parking lot just an hour prior to my arrival. On this morning, however I was warmly reminded of the Kitty Kallen hit of the early 50’s, Little Things Mean a Lot. “Blow me a kiss from across the room, say I look nice when I’m not.” Well, the recent experience wasn’t quite that romantic, but the parking lot was empty and for bonus points, the weather appeared to have been scripted by a race director. Little did I know what was to follow—the most exciting (firefighter) race in twelve years and arguably, maybe ever.

Runners gathered, picked up their registration bibs, stretched, jogged about and of course teased Tony Bendik about his celebrity chef debut (Chronicle Food Section) with many other Firefighter culinary luminaries—Kevin Gonzales, Kevin Callanan, Tom Kurpinsky, Joe Sullivan, and Jerry Hess. At 8:59 runners were called to the starting line, race instructions were given, and Chief Art Kenny issued race commands, and then fired the starter gun.

About 300 meters into the race, many closely-knit runners were racing together. This front pack was gradually reduced to five, then four by mile one—McDonnell, Novo, Rivera and Sobozinsky. As the front pack sped toward Brotherhood, Novo relinquished, and the lead pack narrowed to three—Sobozinsky, McDonnell and Rivera. Stride for stride this trio raced south along the east perimeter to the bottom of the Lake, past the two mile mark and continued cheek to cheek back up the west side past the three mile mark, past the police range and headed toward the intersection leading to the Boat House. Not since Sobozinsky and Stefani dueled in the 1989 Turkey Trot had there been such fierce firefighter competition in a race around Lake Merced. This time it was three warriors in fierce shoulder-to-shoulder competition.

Sobozinsky had set and controlled the pace through the greater part of the race. Rivera and McDonnell worked to maintain contact, hoping to benefit from their speed training for the final segment of the race. As mile four approached, time for separation was ebbing. One of these three stalwart runners must generate a breakaway attempt. At what point will this occur? Who will take the risk and initiate a surge?

After the trio past the entrance to the Boat House, just prior to the four-mile mark, McDonnell began a surge, moving a few meters ahead as the runners sorted to a single file for the first time in the race. Sobozinsky responded first, quickening his pace with Mars falling in behind. At the top of the incline, with a little less than 700 meters remaining, McDonnell began his final surge, accelerating again, approaching a near fatal oxygen debt. As McDonnell continued to move away, Rivera shifted gears moving past Sobozinsky and the final chase was on. At first, Rivera appeared yoked to McDonnell’s continued thrust. Rivera’s push gained ground on Sobozinsky, then gradually relinquishing to McDonnell. Moments later, the raced climaxed with McDonnell’s 4.4 second victory at the 20th annual Turkey Trot.

McDonnell’s victory margin over Rivera is the third closest contest of our Lake Merced races. Twice before the margin of victory was a meager two seconds. First, on April 19, 1985, Brendan O’Leary edged Tony Simi by two seconds. A similar battle had occurred between Jim McDonagh and Dominic Spinetta on January 17, 1986. This later race was also determined by a two-second margin favoring McDonagh. This was our first race at Lake Merced in which the top three firefighters finished within 16 seconds.

Larry’s victory is his fifth consecutive Turkey Trot championship, which is a record. It also breaks his tie for most victories with Brendan O’Leary and Andy Sobozinsky who each have four Turkey Trot victories. Andy’s third place finish earned the Master’s championship and his time, 25:59.4, bettered Tom Masterson’s age record for 41 year olds. Victor Rodriquez was the first Grand Master (50-59) edging out Greg Barron. Recently retired Dave Floersch (M 8) captured the 60 plus division.

First firefighter woman was Patty Yuen (HQ). Patty was among the several firefighters that set PRs on the Lake Merced course. Patty joined Tony Bendik, Dave Floersch and Mark Nicholas in lowering their best times on the Lake Merced 4.5-mile course. Congratulations to the above champions and those setting their personal best times. And a big thanks to all participants whose race day effort has contributed $611.00 to San Francisco Firefighters Local #798’s ‘Toy Program’.

Station Teams

The competition in the Multi-company division was very close. Walter Villavicencio led his Station 7 teammates to another victory, edging stations 9 and 15 by two and a half points. A margin that one volunteer would have overcome. Engine 43 proved to be a powerhouse in winning the Single Company division by a seven-point margin over runner-up, Station 42.


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