90-Year-Old Veteran Runs Turkey Trot Solo Amid COVID Restrictions

November 24, 2020 Updated: November 26, 2020

DANA POINT, Calif.—Orange County’s annual Turkey Trot is keeping pace with tradition, albeit with a twist.

This year’s run—which normally sees participants flock through the streets of Dana Point, California—is taking a virtual approach. The event was modified to implement COVID-19-related pandemic safety measures for race participants.

About 1,500 people registered for the sold-out virtual run, and can race within their own communities rather than the usual designated route. Participants of the run—with the options of three-mile, 6.2 mile, and 9.3-mile distances—could clock their miles in the days leading up to, and including, Thanksgiving on Nov 26.

No racer has kept the Turkey Trot tradition alive better than 89-year-old Robert “Bob” Kohler, who has participated in every Turkey Trot since 2007. He turns 90 on Nov. 26, and he said of the race, “I’m thankful that the good Lord has allowed me to do it … [just ahead of] my 90th birthday.”

Kohler, a Korean War veteran, carries two large American flags in each arm before running his races to honor the nation’s veterans.

He recently had two minor surgeries, “so I am going to go easy on the [three-mile race] this year,” he told The Epoch Times while holding his flags.

Epoch Times Photo
Robert Kohler is a Korean War veteran who includes the American flags in his yearly routine of running the Turkey Trot in Dana Point, Calif., on Nov. 21, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
Robert Kohler runs the virtual 2020 Turkey Trot holding two large American flags in Dana Point, Calif., on Nov. 21, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Kohler picked up distance running in the mid-1980s, and has completed more than 50 marathons with a personal record of 3 hours, 19 minutes. He said he has run enough miles in his lifetime to more than circle the circumference of the world.

As Kohler walked to a busy intersection Nov. 21 after picking up his race packet to begin his condensed version of the run, cars honked and cheered as he held his flags while running solo.

He ran in the bike lane of Dana Point Harbor Drive, and circled back to his car to rehydrate with a bottle of Gatorade.

After he finished his run, he said, “The mini [race] I did reminded me of the ones that I ran during the previous Turkey Trots. I crossed the finish line holding the colors up, so people know the race is over, and that I’ve finished another race.”

This year marks the 43rd year of Orange County’s Turkey Trot, an annual race produced by The Dana Point Chamber of Commerce to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with family-centered runs.

The Dana Point Chamber of Commerce partners with nearly two dozen various Orange County non-profit organizations and charities during the event.

The tradition of the Turkey Trot was founded by four local entrepreneurs who, with no Thanksgiving plans, decided to run through Dana Point’s Lantern District and finish their exercise by running up the steep incline of Cove Road hill. The men were members of the Dana Point Chamber of Commerce and decided that a Thanksgiving Day race would be a great community event. A solid plan came about the following year, featuring mapped-out running routes, T-shirts, and registration fees.

This year, racers had the option of being sent their race packets, containing a bib, medal, and T-shirt, or picking them up at a drive-thru in the Dana Point Harbor parking lot.

Epoch Times Photo
A sign directs participants in the annual Turkey Trot to pick up their runner packets at a drive-thru location in Dana Point, Calif., on Nov. 21, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
Volunteers hand out starter packets at a drive-thru for runners in the annual Turkey Trot in the Dana Point Harbor parking lot in Dana Point, Calif., on Nov. 21, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Although this year’s race is virtual, participants are free to run in the Dana Point Harbor or on city sidewalks, said Dana Point Chamber of Commerce marketing and events manager Katie McGann.

“We just can’t shut down streets and gather 10,000 participants at the start/finish line.”

The Dana Point Chamber of Commerce has already been planning for next year’s race, said its executive director, Vickie McMurchie.

“In looking forward to 2021, we are incredibly hopeful that the race will be in-person but anticipate that certain modifications will still be in place,” McMurchie told The Epoch Times. “We’re already looking at ways to expand the race to additional heats, including possibly hosting a nighttime race on Thanksgiving eve, and limiting the maximum participants per heat.

“The Dana Point Turkey Trot has been a beloved tradition in this community for 43 years—it’s just going to look a little different this year, but we’re hoping that it will still be just as memorable.”