This year's Thanksgiving Wattle in Grove City will include a new component that will make the 5K run and walk an even more inclusive community event.
The sixth annual 5K race will begin at 9 a.m. Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23, on Lamplighter Drive. A children's sprint will be held at 8:30 a.m.
The event also will feature the Turkey Leg 100, offering an adaptive course for people with disabilities.
Grove City resident Matt Svetlick and his daughter, Laney, a 13-year-old with Down syndrome, will serve as grand marshals for the Wattle.
"Shortly after I moved back to Grove City, I started seeing this father and his daughter riding together on a pedal/motorized trike," Mark Sigrist, event organizer, said. "I didn't know who they were, but I was so inspired seeing them together and seeing the big smile on Laney's face."
Sigrist said he posted a message on the Thanksgiving Wattle Facebook page asking if anyone could identify the father and daughter for him.
"I heard back from Matt's sister and she was able to connect me with Matt and Laney," he said. "We're so excited that they will be serving as our grand marshals and as the bike escort from start to finish at the race."
Proceeds from the Wattle will again benefit the Grove City Food Pantry.
Last year's event raised more than $21,000 in cash and participants donated about 1,000 pounds of food for the pantry.
"We're really gratified by the support we've received from the community," Sigrist said. "At the time we held the first race in 2012, Grove City didn't have a 5K event like this. Other areas had their events, but I wanted to create an event for my hometown and for southwestern Franklin County."
About 1,100 runners participated the first year, he said.
At least 2,000 participants are expected this year.
"It keeps growing," Sigrist said. "What I love is seeing families coming out to participate together as a family. It's become part of their Thanksgiving tradition."
The Primrose Children's Run will be held at 8:30 a.m. Youngsters ages 10 and younger will sprint down Lamplighter to the finish line. The fee is $15 and includes a T-shirt, cookie, juice, a restaurant coupon and a medal. All proceeds benefit the Grove City Food Pantry.
Entry deadline for the children's event is Nov. 18 or when the field reaches 200, whichever comes first.
The entry fee for the 5K Wattle is $35 per person, with a $5 discount for children 13 years or younger, adults 60 to 69 years of age and per person in group entries of four or more people (a one-time transaction). Entrants age 70 and older receive a $10 discount.
Included in the 5K fee is a long-sleeve T-shirt, finisher medallion to the first 2,000 entrants who finish, chip-time service, a race bib and pumpkin pies for the top male and female finishers.
The Turkey Leg 100 will be a 100-yard walk/run for disabled participants who are unable to complete the 5K race.
"It will be a race within a race," Sigrist said.
"I'm really excited about adding this adaptive course to the event. It helps make the Wattle a truly inclusive event where everyone can participate."
Participants can walk, run or be pushed along the distance starting from the 100-yard mark on Lamplighter Drive, in front of the Brookdale Senior Center, to the finish line arch.
The event will begin about 9:05 a.m., just after the main 5K race has started, but before the runners return, Sigrist said.
Participants in the adaptive race need to be able to finish 100 yards within five minutes, because the top runners in the 5K race will be crossing the finish line around 9:15 a.m.
Planning for the adaptive race involved representatives from the Grove City Buddy Ball League and Kyley Townley, cheerleader adviser at Grove City High School and a K-3 primary cross-categorical unit intervention specialist at Richard Avenue Elementary School.
"I contacted Mark about our cheerleaders wanting to volunteer at this year's event and he mentioned how Matt and his daughter would be serving as grand marshals," Townley said.
She offered to help Sigrist expand the event so that anyone with a disability could participate.
"As a special-education teacher and former board member with Buddy Ball, I know the value of finding a way to open an activity to so that people with disabilities so that they can feel included and mainstreamed into an event and be part of it with everyone else in the community," she said.
With its successful Buddy Ball League, Grove City is becoming known as a community that cares about and reaches out to the special-needs community and the Wattle is now a part of that, Townley said.
"Mark's done a great job in opening up the Thanksgiving Wattle to people with disabilities, whether it's arranging so that family members can push them along the full 5K route or setting up the adaptive course," she said.
The GCHS cheerleaders will be cheering along the route of the 5K race and will create a special cheer for the Turkey Leg 100 participants, Townley said.
The entry fee for the Turkey Leg 100 is $15, which includes a T-shirt and bib and a medal and pumpkin pie.
Anyone assisting a Turkey Leg participant does not need to sign up or pay the fee if they forego receiving the T-shirt, medal and pumpkin pie.
Participants from the special-needs community can also choose to walk/run the 5K course or be pushed along the course in an adaptive device.
They will receive a 50 percent discount on that event's registration fee by using the coupon code "5kforme" in the online registration.
The race-day festivities will include the presentation of the 2017 Thanksgiving Lifetime Achievement Award to Larry Titus of Grove City.
The award is presented each year to residents who "work behind the scenes and do so much for the community and don't always get the recognition they deserve," Sigrist said.
"Larry's a great guy," he said. "He's dedicated to serving his community and is very pro-veteran."
Titus is a past president of the Grove City Chamber of Commerce and has served as a member of the city's planning commission, as a South-Western City Schools Educational Foundation trustee and as a board member for USO of Ohio.
He currently serves as president of the Grove City Rotary Club and on the Grove City Building and Zoning Appeals Board.
More information about the Thanksgiving Wattle is available at thanksgivingwattle.com.