If you are a runner in the Elkhart County (Indiana) area, you have probably heard about, know someone, or have ran the I’m Thankful Four Run. This annual event (15 years and counting and counting) is held every year on Thanksgiving morning. It is the longest running (to my knowledge) Thanksgiving day run in Northern Indiana. Runners from all over the area and outside of the area come to NorthWood High School in Nappanee to run in this yearly tradition.
But why? Why is this race the best race (in my opinion) on Thanksgiving to run in Northern Indiana? It doesn’t even have timing. It’s not a true competitive race, unless you are aiming to beat the designated Turkey of your gender (or the Butterball Turkey if you weight more than 200lbs) and win a great prove (this year it was an I’m Thankful Four gym bag). So what makes it special?
First off, it’s a community event. The Nappanee/Wakarusa area that makes up Wa-Nee school district is a close community that some don’t understand. The Thankful Four is a time for all of us to come together, to be active, and support a great cause by raising money for scholarships. It’s a time when NorthWood alumni I come back and see one another (sometimes, this the only time of the year that they are back in the area).
Second, it’s in honor of Kelsey Mikel who was taken away way too soon from a car accident, but at the same time, she lives in through her selflessly making sure she was an organ donor. Lives were saved because of one simple choice.
Third, it’s the running community coming together. I challenge you to find another race that is more inclusive and welcoming to this one. Everyone seems to know at least a few other runners at this race, and if you don’t, feel free to introduce yourself to someone.
Fourth, for some, like myself, it’s a time to say thank you to the Mikel family for a that they have done in the community and in our lives. Mark, Kelsey’s father, is the race director. He has been doing this for 15 years. The first year, there was 20-30 of us. A couple years later, the Kelsey Mikel Foundation started up shortly after the accident and there were hundreds of runners joining. Now the numbers reach over 700. Not only is he a race director, he was my cross country and distance track coach in high school, the current high school girls coach, in charge of the Family Christian Development Center in Nappanee, and to many, a second father. His wife Kathy, has been working at a local hospital for years, a proud supporter of NorthWood Athletics, and always by Marks side. Through the foundation, they have awarded deserving high school students with scholarships to continue their education. They have both become ambassadors of organ donation in Indiana. Seems like I always see the Mikel’s at a IOPO function when I look at social media. After seeing the lives that Kelsey changed through her gift of organ donation, I wouldn’t expect it any other way.
All this, and running, makes this a can’t miss event every year. Of the 15 years that this event has been going on, I have not missed a year. It’s exciting to see the rest of my family take part in the Thankful Four e dry year, and the excitement our daughters have for it.
There is always the option for my family to go out of town to see other family members, but that would mean missing the Thankful Four. In my mind, that’s not an option. And if I can’t be with extended family, I want to be with my running family.