Every year, Dan Torres drives 215 miles from Fresno to La Cañada Flintridge to participate in the Community Center’s Thanksgiving Day Run & Food Drive. He picks up his bib, always No. 825, and laces up for the 5K race.
When he’s done, he visits spots he remembers from childhood days growing up in Sunland and spends the holiday in a hotel room. It’s a been a Thanksgiving tradition for the past four years.
He wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Torres’ runner placard reads “Gary Jeff,” an homage to two people he loved very much — his son Jeff, a natural-born runner who ran in the center’s inaugural Thanksgiving Day race in 1994 with bib No. 825, and Clovis Unified Coach Gary Prentice, a mentor and friend to his son for many years.
They are both gone now. Jeff Torres died at age 29 following a May 12, 2010 motorcycle accident, and Prentice succumbed to leukemia exactly five years later, May 12, 2015.
When Torres (more of a sidelines guy than a runner) reflected on their sense of discipline and resilience, and all they meant to him, he felt compelled to do something.
“I grieved for quite a few months, and then I said, ‘You know what, I don’t know if I can run, but I’m going to do it in their memory,’” the 63-year-old recalled in a recent interview. “I don’t care if I’m first or last, I just run until the end.”
These days, Torres participates in several 5K races and contributes to their respective good causes, always running under the name Gary Jeff. But the La Cañada Flintridge race is especially dear.
“The Thanksgiving Day Run is the granddaddy of them all,” he said, thinking back to many fond memories he and wife Sherry had with Jeff at the La Cañada event. “If I have to drag a foot or be in a wheelchair, I will make it.”
CCLCF Program Director Karen Stevenson said there’s no shortage of personal stories like Torres’ among the more than 1,200 runners who participate in the Thanksgiving Day Run & Food Drive’s 5K and 1-mile kids race each year.
“We’re finding a trend among returners that they do it every year,” she said. “They don’t even think twice about it — it’s just part of their yearly tradition.”
Now in its 26th year, the race is just as important to the Community Center, as it supports the nonprofit’s programs and classes for kids, adults and seniors. Participants can register online through Wednesday, or right before the 8:30 a.m. 5K, which is followed by the kids run.
All canned and dry food items collected the day of the run go to the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station, which distributes them to more than 160 area families in need in a holiday event in early December.
Although the weather forecast predicts cool temperatures this Thanksgiving, Torres says he’ll be there bright and early, wearing bib No. 825.
“I don’t care what happens — I’m going out there,” he said.
FYI: The 26th annual Thanksgiving Run and Food Drive takes place Nov. 28, at La Cañada’s Memorial Park, 1301 Foothill Blvd. Advanced registration through Wednesday is $40 for adults and $20 for children under 12. Day-of participation costs $45 per adult or $25 per child. To register, visit cclcf.org. For more, call (818) 790-4353.