When one announces to a stranger in the Buffalo area that you are going to run in the annual five-mile YMCA Turkey Trot for the very first time, you get a warm and friendly, "good for you." When you add that you are doing it in tribute to your grandfather, who won the race 100 years ago, people see it as something extraordinary.
Right from the start, I made it my goal to run the entire length. No small feat for someone who could muster only two miles in high school, many years and pounds ago.
The morning of the race I said two little prayers to "Saint Ibuprofen," the patron saint of middle-aged runners everywhere. I planned to run as far as my body would allow and then walk the remainder. During my injury-plagued, three-month training period, I had never had a successful five-mile run. So, I selected a few waypoints along the route where I might cease running and walk. The location of the old Park Lane Restaurant, Canisius High School and West Utica Street each held personal meaning.
I was positioned about five rows behind the starting line when the official's horn blared and the race began. After reaching my first waypoint, I held my arm up and gave a long, slow wave to the Park Lane Restaurant on Gates Circle where my parents and uncle had all worked. The Park Lane is gone now. So are they.
I continued on to Canisius High School, my alma mater. I gave another long wave to my teachers, the Jesuits, my teammates and President William McKinley, who died in the Milburn House which is now gone.
Just past West Ferry Street, I resigned myself to calling it quits a few blocks ahead at West Utica. At precisely that moment, a runner came up alongside and slowed to my pace. He introduced himself as Colin. He said he saw me waving to no one and figured, correctly, I had attended Canisius. His son is an underclassman there.
My grandfather, Joseph Mole, was assigned the number five in the 1911 race. Being a proud soldier, who voluntarily joined the New York National Guard at age 16, he wore his "runner's bib" in an off-center manner to not completely cover the "military colors" of his 65th Regiment track uniform. I, too, wore the number five, in the same fashion in his honor.
Recognizing me, the uniform and the number on my bib from The News story that he had read the day before, Colin ran with me along the same path my grandfather raced 100 Thanksgivings ago. We became two friends out for a jog on a quiet morning. I knew then and there that if he stayed with me, I might accomplish my seemingly impossible goal. When I faltered as the going got tough, he encouraged me along. Perhaps it was just chance that Colin and I met. I think otherwise. We continued our run to the finish and I achieved my goal in extraordinary fashion.
My official time was 1:01:49, earning me 9,488th place; hardly a good finish by runners' standards. But for me, it was phenomenal. I had smashed all of my "distance records" established in training.
The winner of the race, at 24:42, was Dennis Pollow Jr., a remarkable athlete. I jokingly tell friends that I had the bigger achievement. I kept my legs moving nearly three times as long and took many more steps. Interestingly, when the race began, I crossed the start line just one second behind Pollow and several other top finishers. I like to brag that for a fleeting moment, I was just one second behind the leaders. Grandpa would be proud.
Peter Calabrese, of Tonawanda, ran the Turkey Trot last month in tribute to his grandfather, Joseph Mole, who won the race in 1911.