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'Fowl' weather doesn't keep away Bismarck Turkey Trot faithful

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Ashlee Nilson enjoys seeing people flock to the annual Turkey Trot in Bismarck.

"I think it’s surprising how many people want to run on Thanksgiving Day. That always surprises me. It’s Bismarck, North Dakota. It’s not always the most beautiful weather," the 28-year-old Larimore woman said.

Nilson's family, including relatives in Bismarck, has participated for at least a decade in the annual run/walk event, which raises money to benefit people with cystic fibrosis, such as herself. The Cystic Fibrosis Association of North Dakota, which puts on the Turkey Trot, is an excellent cause, she said.

"They’ve really helped our family personally," said Nilson, who became a nurse after admiring the care that nurses provided her growing up. "They helped me get through school. They’ve helped just emotionally, financially, just that extra support along the way as somebody with a chronic illness trying to be normal."

The association's 32nd annual Turkey Trot is Thursday morning, when nearly 2,000 participants are expected to gather for the run/walk event through Sertoma Park and along River Road in Bismarck.

The 2020 event was completely virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic. But in other years, through rain or shine or snow or subzero temps, the outdoor event has gone on, Association Development Director Pam Thompson said.

"It's become a tradition for a lot of people," she said.

Families, friends and out-of-staters come out, as well as someone every year who aims to run a Turkey Trot in every state, she said. 

The Turkey Trot includes a 5K timed run, a 10K timed run, a 5K timed race walk and an untimed family fun walk.

The event has a virtual option, too, for people to complete and report their race on their own time.

The event typically raises about $40,000, after costs, for the organization to help North Dakotans with cystic fibrosis pay for medications and travel to medical appointments. North Dakota has only two cystic fibrosis clinics, in Bismarck and Fargo. The organization also offers college scholarships.

Sean Cleary, of Bismarck, likes to strut his stuff in a turkey costume, which keeps him warm, though it's held together by some safety pins and tape. 

"This will be the sixth or seventh time I've ran in it," he said.

The Turkey Trot is one of his favorite events of the year. He plans to run the 10K on Thursday.

"For me, it's always a fun way to start the holidays with some family and friends and support a good cause," said Cleary, who has participated for more than a dozen years since his days at St. Mary's Central High School. His wife, Amy, and a friend join him.

Cleary's costume will come in handy; Thursday looks to be cold and windy, with a high temperature in the low 30s.

Nilson remembers a subzero year, when her family attempted a walk, but other people kept running.

Her family plans to get together at her aunt's home in Bismarck for their Thanksgiving meal after the Turkey Trot.

At least 10 members of her family take part, including now her 9-month-old son, Paul.

"It will be his first year participating," she said.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or


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