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Race teams talk trash

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WORTHINGTON -- The Turkey Race Team from Cuero, Texas, won't arrive in Worthington until this afternoon, but the trash talking regarding the upcoming turkey race has been flowing freely over the phone lines for several weeks.

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Worthington's team captain, Jim Von Holtum, fielded one such phone call from Cuero's team captain, Lloyd Copeland, just a few days ago.

"Lloyd did call me over the weekend, wondering if they should be bringing long johns or a parka or that kind of stuff," related Von Holtum, referring to the recent trend toward cooler weather. "He asked if our 'chicken' was ready. I told him, 'We're not bringing out our big bird, we're just bringing out our fast one.'"

The aggrandizing will likely gain momentum when the teams come face to face today and as the first heat of the Great Gobbler Gallop draws near. Worthington's turkey, Paycheck, and Cuero's Ruby Begonia will square off during the King Turkey Day Festival Saturday in Worthington.

The Great Gobbler Gallop was instituted in 1973 as a way to determine which community -- Cuero or Worthington -- has the right to claim the title of Turkey Capital of the World for the coming year. Paycheck has the advantage in the overall standings, having won 19 titles to Ruby's 14.

The Texans are determined to draw closer with win No. 15 this year, although Copeland isn't willing to divulge their exact racing strategy.

"We've got her working out with the football boys, exercising and all that," he said via telephone prior to the team's departure from Cuero. "You know our football team goes to state just about every year, so we figured if they could do that, they could certainly get a turkey in shape."

Paycheck is likewise completing a rigorous training process, according to Von Holtum.

"Carl Lewis has come out of retirement this year and is training Paycheck," he said. "We figured he was the only one fast enough to keep up with our bird."

The Worthington team has also implemented some psychological tactics.

"Until his training began in earnest, Paycheck was on hiatus, living with chickens and ducks, so he feels like the big man on the block and will be ready to strut his stuff," Von Holtum added.

Von Holtum is the only veteran turkey racer on this year's team, with Cindy DeGroot serving as coach in lieu of last year's KTD president Matt Widboom -- who declined the position due to another obligation -- and handlers Diane Dybevick and Larry Iten.

"We've been running around the lake pretty regularly, early in the morning so the paparazzi doesn't catch us," said Von Holtum about his team's training regimen. "As handlers, both Larry and Diane have been working on their sprints, because they're going to be the outside wing people, keeping Paycheck from veering off into the crowd. I'll start the bird, and we've got special starting blocks to help him get out of the gate real quick, so we'll have an early lead. As the coach, Cindy will have the whistle and baton and some serious voice pipes, so she'll be yelling out instructions and keeping us in line."

Copeland, in his second year on the team, is joined by coach Leslie Voelkel Campos, who was on the Texas team in 1995 and '96, and two newcomers in the handler positions, Jamie Wright and Phyllis Foulds.

"We put Jamie on there to match up with Jim," Copeland explained. "We needed somebody with long legs. He's probably the most athletic of the bunch."

The Texas team's secret weapon this year could possible be Foulds -- she grew up on a turkey farm and may have some insights in the gobblers' behavior.

"Her daddy used to be a great big turkey farmer here," Copeland said. "So we've all kind of discussed the strategy between us and come up with a plan."

Since it's been hot in Texas and relatively cool in Minnesota, Ruby has been going through some acclimation therapy.

"We put her in a freezer. That's what we do to calves to make them grow longer hair," Copeland detailed. "It's a big cooler, with the temperature set to about 40 degrees. We figured it wouldn't be any colder than that up there."

The Great Gobbler Gallop will commence at about 1:30 p.m. Saturday on 10th Street in downtown Worthington. The second heat of the race will be Oct. 14 in Cuero.

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Beth Rickers
Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at http://lagniappe.areavoices.com/.  
(507) 376-7327
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