Turkey ticklers

United Way fund-raiser brings

Some people stuff their turkeys. In Craig, jockeys race their turkeys down the street to raise funds for local charities.

A group of area business owners started the turkey races five years ago as a way to raise money for the Moffat County United Way. Each year, the event has grown in sponsors.

The morning after the season's first real snow, 15 boys and girls geared up with feather dusters, sunglasses and neon sombreros in the hopes of becoming Craig's turkey race champion.

Gray clouds hung low. The actual temperature was 19 degrees, but it felt much colder.

A snow fence surrounded the icy racetrack. The young turkey jockeys stood on the starting line, armed with their feather dusters, waiting for the release of the bandana wearing free range Red Bourbon turkeys just rounded up Saturday morning for the event.

The announcer, safe in a nearby garage, called go, and chaos ensued.

Following three preliminary heats and a championship race, Nike Cleverly, representing Action Drain Service, emerged as Craig's turkey race champion.

The race, hosted by Jackson's Office Supply, raised more than $1,500 for United Way, thanks to 15 area businesses that sponsored the turkey jockeys at $100 a head.

Nothing in the jockey's short lives had prepared them for the challenge of racing a turkey. Illena Updike raises the turkeys, but she allows them to run wild on her land. They aren't used to human control. Their brains are small. They don't enjoy being smacked with feather dusters.

But Garrette Reece, representing Timberworks, overcame all of those obstacles to win the first heat.

"That turkey's crazy," he said after his victory. "But it's fun. Everybody should try it."

Reece won using a special tickling technique he learned while jockeying his bird.

"If you tickle it on the left it goes right, and if you tickle it on the right it goes left," he explained.

The goal was to get the turkey, identified by a colored bandana around its neck, to run around a cone, about 100 feet away, and then return to the starting line.

The kids understood this, but the turkeys didn't. So, the jockeys haplessly ran after their birds, which were slipping on the icy street, running in the wrong direction. The kids often ended up in clumps, because the confused turkeys tended to stick together.

Eventually, more through dumb luck than anything else, a turkey would make it back to where it started.

Isaac Sanchez, jockey for Rocky Mountain TLC, won the controversial second heat.

At first, it seemed that Tyler Gerber, racing for First National Bank of the Rockies, had won by a mile. But judges determined that Gerber didn't properly complete the course, so he was disqualified.

Nike Cleverly, who delivered the most aggressive performance of the day, won what may have been the most exciting heat of the day.

For most of the race, there was no clear leader. Turkeys ran in circles while their jockeys helplessly followed. Then Cleverly suddenly appeared at the head of the pack, riding her turkey hard with her feather duster. Cleverly and her bird sprinted toward the finish. Just as they crossed the finish line, a competitor's turkey flew into the air and landed on her back. Still, Cleverly stayed focused on her bird, even though she said the other turkey's talons hurt her neck a little.

Then the attacking turkey jumped the snow fence and ran east along Victory Way. It was later recovered.

Cleverly explained her winning strategy as so: "Hit him in the butt."

The championship race proved to be challenging for the three finalists. No one could coax their turkey off the starting line for the first minute or so, and then the birds stayed together, huddling along the fence as the three jockeys ushered them along.

But Cleverly's hit-him-in-the-butt strategy proved to be the day's winner.

Earlier in the day, spectators took turns turkey bowling on the sidewalk in front of Jackson's. For one dollar, bowlers got two attempts to knock over ten pins with a frozen turkey. Winners received a rubber turkey keychain.

Gene Carson, who came to the event with his family out of curiosity at a newspaper advertisement, discovered he had some skill at turkey bowling.

"It's all in the motion," he explained to those around him, after scoring a strike. "You've got to follow through."

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