On a cool November morning in 2014, Pam Gaiser nervously toed the starting line of Marana’s Turkey Trot. In younger days, she’d completed the LA Marathon twice. She worked for 31 years at Raytheon, and helped coordinate the company’s running club for over twenty of them. But for five years, vertebra damage had limited her to casual neighborhood jogs. No more grueling tests of endurance, she thought. Her running days were over.
That is, until the 2014 Turkey Trot. A few weeks before the event, she signed up her whole family for the event as a fun way to bring everyone together. She and her daughter Kelsey had planned to walk/run the 10K together, but when they met at Crossroads Park, Pam learned that Kelsey would be walking the 5K with her husband and step-daughters, while her son Nick would be walking the 5K with his wife and two young sons. Undeterred, Pam nevertheless stuck to her original plan. Half a decade stood between her and her last race, but this was the moment, she believed. This was her chance to find out whether she could still pound the pavement for ten long kilometers. No pressure.
A little over an hour later, she had her answer. Not only had Pam finished the race without walking a step, she had even beaten her family, who had approached the 5K at a leisurely pace. Suddenly, she knew she could run again. After five years of long walks and slow jogs, Pam finally had a chance to reenter the racing world.
At 61, Pam Gaiser represents an increasingly active retiree population in Arizona. Lithe and energetic, with sprightly, silver hair, the average movie theater ticket seller should think twice before offering her a senior discount. Last week, she and a group of friends kayaked and camped along the Colorado below the Hoover Dam. As she described the steady current of the river and its bubbly hot springs, it became clear that her retirement was anything but retiring.
When she ventures into the open spaces around Marana, Pam has a few favorite spots where she often returns. Every Tuesday morning, she can be found traversing the Tram Road or Phoneline Trail in Sabino Canyon. She’s also especially fond of the trails in Saguaro National Park East, and for a particularly vigorous outing, she’s been known to trek along Old Baldy Trail to the summit of Mt. Wrightson.
Pam is no stranger, though, to the running trails right in her own backyard. As long as she has lived in this community, she has enjoyed the roads that skirt the foothills of the northern Tucson Mountains. Sometimes, however, the desert has packed a few surprises for her.
Though she has grown accustomed to the pack of javelinas that lives in her neighborhood, one bold peccary seems to have developed a special fondness for Pam. She, however, does not return his affection. “I had to run up on my neighbor’s porch to escape him,” she recalls. “I didn’t even know those neighbors, but it was my only choice.”
Another time, she remembers a Marana Police officer stopping between her and the “hooved terrorist,” as she calls her javelina devotee when he’s out of earshot. Only when the officer used the car’s bullhorn did the animal retreat. For the rest of her short run home, Pam asked the officer to drive slowly beside her, lest the animal return. The officer was glad to oblige.
A year after her successful return to the racing circuit, Pam is excited to celebrate her second wind by entering, once again, in Marana’s annual Turkey Trot. This year’s race will be held at Crossroads Park on November 14, and registration is still open. As Pam can attest, this event is not only for seasoned veterans, but for those who are willing to take a risk and see how they do. Whether participants are planning to run, walk, or push a stroller, they will find a welcoming event where any pace is the right pace. Nothing says fall in Marana more than getting outdoors to enjoy the temperate climate, and the Turkey Trot is the perfect place to do just that. And when you’re out there, see if you can keep up with Pam. She’s a quick one.